We have seen superiority like never before in the premier league over the last two seasons. Liverpool and Manchester City have won the last two titles in record breaking fashion, with no other Premier League teams offering any form of competition. Some would argue Manchester City’s 100-point haul in the 2018/2019 season places them at the top of the list in terms of “The greatest Premier League sides ever”, given they hold the points record. However, Arsenal, United and Chelsea fans may argue their sides have produced more impressive campaigns. Liverpool were one point shy of equalling that record last season, but managed to win the league faster than any other side has done in history, which has put them as front runners to retain the Premier League title this year. We take a look at how the top two will battle it out this season, considering some of the factors that might affect how both sides fare.
As mentioned previously, Jürgen Klopp’s side were comfortably the best team in England last season, finishing the campaign on 99 points (the second highest in PL history). Many football fans mocked the reds for not breaking any major records such as: the most points or goals scored (Manchester City 100 & 106 respectively), least goals conceded (15 – Chelsea) or going the season unbeaten (Arsenal). However, PL trophies are not won by breaking records, but simply by the points system, which would suggest Liverpool had the second-best premier league season of all time – a statistic that hardly warrants ridicule.
They started this season with two wins, one pretty and one not so. It took them till the 88th minute to find a winner against newly promoted Leeds, whilst conceding 3 goals, which for a defence consisting of the current best defender in the world is unacceptable by their standards. A trip to Stamford Bridge saw them assert their dominance over one of their rivals, by cruising to a 0-2 victory over Chelsea, where one of the signings of the summer – Thiago – impressed on his debut. It’s fair to say they’ve started off in the same fashion as last year, getting results even when they don’t play particularly well. A comfortable victory over Arsenal in their third game meant retaining the title looked inevitable, however, their most recent premier league game showed the world they might not be the same force of last season.
Their second away venture of the season took a turn for the worst, with the reds being trounced 7-2 by last year’s relegation battlers – Aston Villa. Dropping points is tough, conceding seven is disastrous. Joe Gomez has struggled since football restarted in July, showing serious frailties in his defending. His partner – Virgil Van Dijk – who, as mentioned, is arguably world football’s best defender at present, doesn’t look as assured as he has for the last two seasons. Without a strong defence, it’s difficult to win titles, but in COVID-19 times, we may find unexpected results like this are more common, with Manchester United losing 1-6 at home just a few hours before. A lack of fans could see players feel slightly less pressure, causing them to take more risks and be more relaxed, leading to an increase in the number of goals.
The one major advantage Liverpool have had over the past two years is a lack of injuries. Chelsea, Arsenal, United and of course, Manchester City have struggled with injuries to key players, hindering the opportunity to find a consistent starting XI. Liverpool haven’t had many major injuries to their stars, with VVD, Salah, Mane and Firmino remaining fit for most of their successful campaigns. However, long-term injuries to one or two of these could spell trouble for Jürgen Klopp’s side, as we saw against Aston Villa, where Mane was not available.
During the summer transfer window, Liverpool fans were growing impatient with the board due to the lack of transfer activity. A title winning team should not remain stagnant and should build on their success by adding more quality to their squad to avoid being left behind. The past week has seen two high profile signings in Thiago and Diogo Jota, which look to be very strong acquisitions in building squad depth and maintaining competition to avoid the ever-present starting XI getting complacent. With arguably the best front three in the league hitting their prime, it is hard to see them slowing down this year. As we saw against Aston Villa, the only way they could be stopped is if they take their foot off the gas after winning the two biggest trophies (the PL and Champions League) in the last two seasons. A good team wins trophies, a great team retains them.
Manchester City FC
After a earning a combined 198 points in the two seasons prior to the last, Manchester City will be disappointed with their 81 point haul which saw Liverpool finally get the better of them. It’s no secret that Pep Guardiola’s side have their eyes on Europe’s elite competition, however, they will be hungry to improve on last season’s underperformance in the domestic league. They’ve started the season well with a strong away victory against a Wolves team who beat them both home and away last season. After that performance, it seemed like they meant business. However, two games later and serious questions are being asked of this coveted Manchester City side.
They currently have arguably the best midfielder in the world pulling the strings for them in Kevin De Bruyne, who won last season’s Player of the Year. Along with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, Kevin orchestrates one of the most terrifying attacks in Europe that on their day, can tear apart any defence. The key to their success will be injuries. Guardiola’s side have been unlucky in recent times with injuries to several key players, most notably Aguero, who has been one of the best strikers of the last decade, when he hasn’t been on doctor’s table side-lined with various different injuries. Keeping Aguero fit would see City finish comfortably in the top two, because of how lethal he is in front of goal. His injury record and age would suggest that second choice Gabriel Jesus will have to step up at times this season, and despite his ability, there are question marks over whether he can fill Aguero’s boots. Both players are currently injured, which has forced Pep to play midfielders at the striker position and it has not fared well for him.
A devastating 2-5 loss to Leicester City put Pep’s side in the spotlight. It is unusual to see one of his teams roll over like that, which will give City fans cause for concern, especially after seeing them draw away to newly promoted Leeds too. Four points from a possible nine is not the way City will have wanted to start, but there is no doubt that they have the quality in their ranks to bounce back.
Pep has added a few new names to his ranks this summer, including the exciting youngster -Ferran Torres – and Nathan Ake. Both of these players will be looking to cement their place in the starting XI, which will add a good level of competition within the squad. More recently, centre-back Ruben Dias has arrived to bolster a shaky City defence, which has been heavily invested in over the past 5 years. A fully fit Aymeric Laporte alongside the Portuguese centre-back could prove to become a solid pairing if they are able to get a run of games in together. Another interesting aspect of City’s season is that they will be without David Silva at the club for the first time since 2010, which paves the way for attacking midfielder Phil Foden to become a first team regular in the premier league. The 20 year old has been in and around the first team for the last couple of seasons, producing excellent performances in the cup competitions and some premier league matches. Now, with Silva gone, it seems as though this year should be Foden’s breakthrough season, as there is no doubt he has the talent. The recent England debutant has made a good start to the season by getting on the scoresheet against Wolves, but he has big boots to fill and must not let any off-the-field antics or media pressure hinder his chances of making himself an integral part of Pep’s plans.
It is important to look at Liverpool’s horror-show at Villa park, but not dwell on it for too long, given how consistently impressive they have been over the past 24 months. We can say the same for Manchester City’s games against Leicester and Leeds, which should only help encourage Klopp and Guardiola to get their teams into gear. Although they shipped seven goals last weekend, it is difficult to see Liverpool being caught this season. The expectation is that the other teams in the “Big Six” will provide a stronger challenge for the title, but those sides are proving to be rather inconsistent as they struggle through a rebuilding phase. Injuries to key players will play a major role in determining the winner of the league, as a fit and healthy Aguero up top for Manchester City, while a Liverpool star such as VVD is on the side-lines could turn the tide blue in the race for the title.
Champions – Liverpool – 91 Pts
2nd – Manchester City – 86 Pts
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