June 22, 2024

MANCHESTER — So who wants to win the Premier League title this season? Or more to the point, who believes they can win it? Manchester City might still be the favourites to emerge as champions again after Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Liverpool, but their rivals are beginning to gang up on Pep Guardiola’s team.

City certainly know how to win the title; they are aiming to becoming the first English club to do it four seasons in a row. But Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are within striking distance of top spot and the opportunity to end the campaign as champions is beginning to present itself for each of them.

We have grown accustomed to City coasting to the Premier League title. Guardiola’s side has won five of the past six, with only Liverpool denying them six in a row by winning it in 2020, but this season is promising to be the most competitive race for the English title in years.

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At the end of this game at the Etihad Stadium, four points separated the top five teams in the Premier League. In Spain and France, that gap was 10 points while in Italy and in Germany it was 11. In recent seasons, City have eventually pulled clear, but results are suggesting that could be different this time.

Arsenal have beaten City this season, Chelsea held them to a draw in a crazy 4-4 epic two weeks ago and now Liverpool have emerged unbeaten against Guardiola’s team. With Tottenham next up at the Etihad on Dec. 3, another failure to defeat a fellow big hitter will give them all the confidence that City could drop enough points for another team to take advantage.

We are now just waiting for that team to emerge — the best of the rest, or the club prepared to be ambitious enough in January to make the signing that could transform them from challengers to champions.

Liverpool are arguably the team most likely to beat City to the title. After all, they have done what has become almost impossible by getting something from the Etihad. Had City held on for the win, they would have equalled Sunderland’s milestone of 24 consecutive home victories in all competitions — a record dating back to 1894.

Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s 80th-minute equaliser secured a deserved point for Liverpool after Erling Haaland had become quickest player to 50 Premier League goals by putting City ahead on 27 minutes in only his 48th appearance in the competition. Haaland erased Andy Cole (65 games, Newcastle 1993-94) to claim his latest record. Neither team did enough to win the game, but there was equal significance in City failing to claim the victory and Liverpool’s ability to rein them back in following Haaland’s goal.

If City continue their pattern of failing to beat their closest rivals, they will enable the chasing pack to keep pace. Tottenham and Aston Villa are City’s next two opponents in the league and both are capable of adding to the Guardiola’s frustrations by securing positive results. On the flip side, Liverpool’s success in halting City’s winning run at home will fuel belief at Anfield that Klopp and his team can repeat their 2019-20 title win this season. But despite emerging with a point, Klopp said his team played within themselves and could have won had they performed better.

“If we’d played really well today, we could have won, but we didn’t,” Klopp said. “We played OK. We caused them problems as well, but our good moments didn’t feel that good to us.

“We had to stretch ourselves again [in the second half], but I told the boys at half-time, imagine what it would be like if we were playing well.

“But this is a really tough place to come and it is a not a coincidence they have won I don’t know how many in a row at home. They are a super team.”

With his team ending the game having held on to top spot in the table — Arsenal had the chance to dislodge City with a win at Brentford in the later game on Saturday — Guardiola said there were positives from his team’s performance and result.

“That was an excellent performance,” he said. “I am really proud that after eight years we are still playing that way. We were really good in all departments and needed to be against an incredible team.

“Maybe we missed the last pass a little bit but they defended really well. To concede just two shots on target against Liverpool is a big compliment for the way we work.”

Guardiola did not emit any kind of concern for his team’s title hopes, but for the first time this season, City visibly missed Kevin De Bruyne, whose hamstring injury has sidelined him since the opening weekend in August. Without De Bruyne’s ability to break from box to box and deliver long-range passes, City’s midfield lacked penetration and energy. The Belgium international will be out until the New Year, so his absence could hurt them again in the games ahead. Liverpool’s midfield, which has been impressive this season, did not display the drive or ambition to take advantage of City’s deficiencies, so the game ended with both teams happy with a point and content not to lose.

It was a good result for Liverpool, but an even better one for the title race because if one of the contenders is able to hit title-winning form, City’s shortcomings against the top sides might just pave the way for different ribbons to be tied to the Premier League trophy next May.

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