Liver­pool can put Man City — play­ing Chelsea — un­der pres­sure this week­end, a race for the ti­tle that has failed to ma­te­ri­alise in re­cent times

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Miguel De­laney

Al ready t his week­end t here is some­thing of a twist to the Premier League. For the first time since early Novem­ber, Liver­pool will play be­fore Manch­ester City, chang­ing the dy­nam­ics that have gov­erned the top of the ta­ble for the last month.

The fact that Jür­gen Klopp’s side have al­ways been un­der such pres­sure to fol­low the cham­pi­ons with a win, to keep the gap at just two points, has been one bi­grea­son­whyithas­felt­they­have­been just about “hang­ing on” — de­spite havin­gal­ready­been­re­spon­si­ble­forthe7th best record af­ter 15 games in English his­tory. It has just added that ex­tra el­e­ment of ur­gency to every mo­ment of a match where they are not yet in front.

In­stead, away to Bournemouth on Satur­day af­ter­noon, Liver­pool now have the op­por­tu­nity to at least tem­po­rar­ily move ahead of City and put the pres­sure back on them prior to their dif­fi­cult trip to Chelsea.

But the ap­par­ent in­evitabil­ity of City’s form doesn’t mean this is a proper ti­tle race just yet. It is way too early for that. It is merely the pre­lim­i­nary stage that hope­fully sets up a proper ti­tle race, and what would be the first of its kind in half a decade.

This in it­self makes it feel dif­fer­ent and more nar­ra­tively di­verse than so many of the past few sea­sons. The very fact we’re at a point where which of the top two plays first be­comes rel­e­vant is it­self re­fresh­ing.

It isn’t big-six clashes that now most com­mand the at­ten­tion, but matches i nvolvi ng t he top two. That’s the case with Chelsea-City this week­end, a fix­ture that is now most rel­e­vant be­cause of the prospect of a ti­tle race de­vel­op­ing.

Pep Guardi­ola ac­tu­ally hasn’t been in­volved in that many ti­tle races. His very first sea­son at Barcelona in 200809 saw the threat of a ti­tle race bru­tally killed off by a bril­liant 6-2 win away to Real Madrid, set­ting the pace for most of his ca­reer.

Of his nine full sea­sons so far, six have been dom­i­nant processions to vic­tory. There have only been two cam­paigns where he hasn’t won the league, and only one — 2016-17 against An­to­nio Conte’s Chelsea — where he hasn’t even been in the race. Jose Mour­inho’s Real Madrid oth­er­wise pipped his Barca in 2011-12, af­ter Manuel Pel­le­grini’s Madrid had taken them to the last day in 2009-10.

And it’s that, as well as Klopp’s in­abil­i­ty­tochal­lengeGuardi­o­laamid­sim­i­lar dy­nam­ics with Borus­sia Dort­mund in the Bun­desliga, that keeps most of the pres­sure on Liver­pool.

Per­haps the big­gest ques­tion in this en­tire sea­son is not just whether the Ger­man’s side can sus­tain a ti­tle chal- 6pm 8:30pm 8:30pm 11pm 1:15am

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lenge, but whether they can rise to the ex­tra chal­lenge of sus­tain­ing some­thing close to City’s points re­turn.

This is why it is said they are hang­ing on by their fin­ger­tips, even though so many at An­field bris­tle at such de­scrip­tions. While City have gen­er­al­ly­main­tainedtheir­re­turn­with­easy wins,Liver­pool­have­more­often­hadto grind theirs out.

But does the na­ture of their wins ac­tu­ally bol­ster the be­lief they can put up a chal­lenge? Win­ning your derby inthe­last­min­ute­an­drecov­er­ingfrom agoal­dow­natBurn­ley­tow­in­re­sound­ingly are the type of de­vel­op­ments that fos­ter trust and con­fi­dence that then it­self start to in­fuse per­for­mances in a vir­tu­ous and vic­to­ri­ous cy­cle.

That is what so many ti­tle races have come downto, the men­tal­ity and in­ten­si­ty­ofap­pli­ca­tion­inthein­di­vid­ual­mo­ments that en­hances ev­ery­thing else, that adds up to some­thing big­ger.

Liver­pool coach Jür­gen Klopp

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