The Games That Will Determine the Destination of the Premier League Title
We take a look at which games are going to be pivotal in determining whether Liverpool can pip Manchester City to the Premier League title.
With Liverpool being saved from the indignity of dropping two points at Craven Cottage last Sunday, the title-race continues unrelentingly. There can be no doubt that Manchester City will hit back with a vengeance in due course though, and the champions’ game in hand is set to be the most pivotal match of the season – but which others will play crucial roles in the title race?
Fulham v Man City (31 March)
City will likely need to go win-for-win to stay as favourite in the current sports spread betting outright market, and anything less than three points at Fulham seismically changes the title race. Spirited though the Londoners were in their defeat to Liverpool, the lack of quality was there to be seen. It is clear evidence that buying en-masse doesn’t always equate to survival, and City should make no mistake here.
After coming from 2-0 down at Swansea, to prevail 3-2 in their FA Cup quarter-final, Pep Guardiola’s men have now emerged victorious in eight of their last nine matches on hostile turf. Each of their last three league wins on the road have also seen them win to nil, while they have additionally scored eight times without reply across two league visits to teams that currently languish in the bottom three.
Liverpool & Manchester City vs Tottenham
Following a heroic round-of-16 display in the Champions League, Tottenham are still fighting to succeed where long-time tormentors Arsenal have failed, and win the Champions League. Depending on how they choose to balance domestic and European duties in the coming weeks, Tottenham could well be remembered as the kingmakers of the 2018/19 Premier League.
Naturally, Tottenham will be underdogs in their league trips to Liverpool and Manchester, which respectively take place on 31 March and 17 April, having already lost at Wembley to both teams in the reverse fixtures.
Liverpool are undefeated in fifteen home league matches this season, and look well on course to go a second full season without losing a league game at Anfield. Ten of those fifteen wins have also come after a victorious first half.
Unlike Liverpool, City have tasted the bitter sting of a home defeat this season. However, their home league record against their peers in the top six is flawless, with their 6-0 demolition of Chelsea being a performance every bit as frightening as any from the Premier League winning class of 17/18.
Liverpool v Chelsea (14 April)
Assuming Liverpool do go win-for-win with City up until the second weekend of April, Chelsea’s visit to Liverpool will be a truly pivotal one in the context of the title race. The Blues are the last team to inflict any competitive defeat upon Liverpool at Anfield, winning there 2-1 en-route to the EFL Cup final back in the autumn.
Psychologically speaking, this game is a perfect opportunity for Liverpool to right the first of two wrongs that derailed their title challenge in 2014. The corresponding fixture of 2013/14 is of course well-known for being the one where Steven Gerrard slipped over to allow a match-winning goal for Chelsea striker Demba Ba.
In the eyes of many Liverpool fans, that was the moment the title was lost. Incredibly, that match was the second installment in what is currently a winless run of eight home matches for Liverpool against Chelsea, with a series of four 1-1 draws preceding the latest match here.
While Chelsea always seem to reserve their best for an Anfield trip, the fact remains that Chelsea are now looking likeliest to fail in the race to finish in the top four. Without doubt, their second half performance on the blue side of Stanley Park last Sunday was atrocious, and led many people to call for the head of Maurizio Sarri.
Any repeat performance is guaranteed to be punished with even greater aplomb by the likes of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, potentially making the second Manchester derby of the season ten days later the match that decides everything.
The Manchester Derby (24 April)
City couldn’t have wished for a more challenging game in hand. Neighbours Manchester United are a force transformed under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, adapting well to his philosophy of tactical fluidity. That said, two successive defeats including an FA Cup elimination at Wolves have armed his doubters afresh, and on current evidence, City still have the greater momentum by far.
Guardiola’s men won last season’s corresponding fixture 2-1, doing so for the second time in as many league visits to Old Trafford under the Spaniard’s tenure. For many reds and blues alike, last season’s league clash at Old Trafford settled the title race even before Christmas. A victory for City, assuming they win all of their fixtures beforehand, will likely achieve the same effect before the start of May.
The Final Countdown
The final three games of the season are unlikely to see either of Liverpool or City drop any points at all, although Liverpool’s visit to Newcastle and City’s trip to Burnley are both matches where nothing can be taken for granted.
Notably, Newcastle in particular have shown battling qualities to move away from immediate trouble, and Jurgen Klopp has taken just one point of the last six available from trips to St James Park. Burnley also held City to a draw the last time they played host to Guardiola’s men, though the dominance City showed in their brace of 5-0 wins over Burnley bode well for what could be a telling trip to Turf Moor.
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