Well what a season this is turning out to be. After a number of boring Premier League title triumphs over the past few seasons, this one promises to be more of a nail-biting affair rather than having to make a decision about watching paint dry.
This season, eyes are firmly fixed on the prize, reddening as the strain takes its toll, tears slowly falling down the sides of faces that are anxiously waiting for it all to end.
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Unless you’re Naby Keita, who lost Michail Antonio at the vital moment six minutes after Liverpool had taken the lead to hand West Ham United a commendable draw, at the expense of their visitors’ continued push for the title.
These are the moments that define entire title challenges and enormous pushes for glory, those nitty-gritty details that can turn three points into one. You have to wonder if Liverpool can afford moments like that again, with a predatory Manchester City team on their neck who are making it harder to stay vigilant at the top.
But that’s exactly what this season needed, to wrestle away from the strings of mediocrity by those that had assumed the position of being the elite, the big dogs who’ve recently failed to deliver the bite to their bark, and actually bring the fight to the actual fight. This season, City aren’t here to be walked all over like their own 100-point procession; rather, they’re here to make things uncomfortable for Jurgen Klopp and his men, and with their 2-0 win against Everton, that stance has been made much stronger.
What Liverpool and City have in common at this moment is their nervy approach to games, those usually smooth grooves creaking just a little bit at a time to make their season run-in that much harder. City played the percentages and won it the hardened way, with Aymeric Laporte’s precision header and Gabriel Jesus’ late goal, to really crank up the pressure. Before the end, they ran down the clock, rushed for the corner, played the ball among themselves and even went back to Ederson, who hoofed the ball with all his might.
With the resumption of the Champions League just around the corner, maybe European competition can provide a cushion for those headaches, that 62-point familiarity that’s knocking on the noggins and making it harder to sleep at night.
And as City keep up the heat at the summit, Liverpool dare blink. Pep Guardiola will wait, and wait, and wait, until Klopp adjusts his glasses and takes a blink or two. By then, City may have taken their position at the top to permanent status.
The feeling of uncertainty has been on show already, with Klopp’s complaints at the officials at full-time in London, and Andrew Robertson referring to these last few games as a “wee blip”. Come what may, complaints and blips aren’t what tie up the laces and run onto the pitch week in, week out. From now on, every single one of those Liverpool players will have to take a long, hard look at themselves and decide their destiny.
We’ve been here before with Liverpool, most recently in 2014 when Brendan Rodgers was in charge, and although they won’t need reminding, supporters will feel uneasy. Who in this squad can rein in the troops and drag them over the finish line? Because this is what Liverpool need to brush away those snickers and murmurs, that constant reminder that they’ve fumbled it all before.
And for City, this will be a title race that they will relish as their healthy squad seek to lay waste to those that stand in their way. The riches of Abu Dhabi may have gotten them here so far, but the brains behind their current operation will definitely win the plaudits if he can pull this off. Usually, its Guardiola’s teams who do all the leading, but this season has thrown up a different proposition from a nemesis that has his number one-on-one.
At least the Spaniard has emphasized that his team must play their way – the only way they know how – and they won’t need reminding. Innovations such as the new role that Fernandinho was thrust in against Arsenal points to an ability to always find new solutions to problems you’d think they’ve seen before, but such are the margins at the top that City have to play like an over-thinking steam train, hurdling for the promised land with all the permutations and combinations seemingly worked out.
Whatever happens in the end, the universal agreement will be that either one of them would’ve deserved it – Liverpool for their will to stay in front, and City for pushing until the very end. It’s what this league should consistently be about, but if Liverpool blink, it could be City’s chance to pounce.