English Premier League Run-in Roundup Part #1: The Guardiola-Klopp Showdown

Staying on top of everything that happens as the season progresses is daunting for even the most energetic and passionate of soccer fans, so you may be forgiven for letting the occasional detail slip through the crack as this 9 month drama unfolds before our very eyes. This three-part roundup can serve to inform you (or remind you if you are a seasoned veteran) of all the major plot-lines that have come to pass since last August and will set the stage for the critical games and trophies that have yet to be won.

View Part #2 – Surprise Packages,
Disappointments and Cups
View Part #3 – Relegation and Roundup

Where will the title go in 2018-19?

Unless you have been completely derelict in your duties as a fan you will be extremely aware that there have been two primary, dominant forces in the Premier League this season. Last year’s runaway train and expensively assembled Manchester City have been fighting tooth and nail this season to compete with the surprisingly impressive Liverpool squad that has been put together by Jurgen Klopp over the past 3 and 1/2 years. Most pundits predicted that Liverpool would improve on last season’s 4th place finish and 75 points, due to some solid additions to weak areas (like Fabinho and Alisson Becker), but most pundits also assumed the strength of Manchester City’s almost immaculate squad would be too much for any competitor to match over the course of the season.

Out of ESPNFC’s 44 writers, 34 of them predicted that Liverpool would finish in the runner’s up spot to Manchester City. In comparison, 40 of them predicted that Manchester City would successfully defend their crown. So what does that tell us? A majority of analysts expected these two teams to be slugging it out for the title and the majority of those same analysts expect Manchester City to get the job done down the stretch.

Making a prediction at this point in the season is almost as difficult as making one before the season began given the tightness of the table at the moment, but the betting man (or woman) would still place their money on Manchester City taking the league title.

I am a Liverpool fan, and I am still making this prediction for a few reasons. First, Manchester City have the best starting 11 and the best bench of any club in the league. Few clubs in world football can regularly keep players like Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez on the bench. Oh, and there is the small matter of Kevin de Bruyne returning to full fitness after an injury hit campaign. This depth will be critical as Manchester City look likely to compete and progress in the FA Cup and Champions League.

Similarly and secondly, the rigors of multiple competitions have been slightly offset by some fortuitous draws in various competitions. They could have faced either Tottenham or Chelsea in a competitive two-legged EFL Cup semi-final, but instead they received the comfort of a 10-0 aggregate win against League 1’s Burton Albion. They were also given the kindest available draw for the last 16 of the Champions League when they were pitted against Bundesliga strugglers Schalke. As the old adage goes, you can only beat what is put in front of you, but every ounce of strength that can be saved by this squad will serve them well in the last few games of the season. Their upcoming FA Cup quarter final at Swansea City will likely not cause them to lose much sleep when they could have been drawn against 5 other Premier League sides that included Manchester United. All seems to be falling into place nicely.

Lastly, Liverpool has a fairly notable recent history of coming up short in important matches. Within the last decade alone they have managed to lose an EFL Cup Final, an FA Cup Final, a Europa League Final, a Champions League Final and two league titles which they were well placed to win.

The 10 years also tells us that the team to be on top of the table at Christmas will win the league 80% of the time. The only two failures? Liverpool in 2008-09 and Liverpool in 2013-14. While this may be purely coincidental, it is important to recognize the title drought that Liverpool have endured and the palpable anxiety and tension that courses through the fans and players when they get so close to something that they have wanted for so long.

A 29-year wait is almost unthinkable for a club that has been used to much historical success both domestically and on the continent, but here we are. 29 years have passed and this current squad has the responsibility of getting the proverbial monkey off their backs. It will undoubtedly weigh heavily on them between now and the end of the season. Manchester City don’t have the same pressure, and are fronted by the serial winner that is Pep Guardiola.

There are a few key games coming up that will go quite a long way to determining which of these two clubs will win the title.

Liverpool start with a massive away trip to cross-town rivals Everton on Sunday. It’s safe to say that Liverpool relied on quite a bit of luck (and some downright ridiculous goalkeeping from Jordan Pickford) to take all 3 points when these teams met at Anfield, and Everton will be buoyed by how close the game was while being extremely motivated to ruin Liverpool’s title challenge. There is very little better than destroying your biggest rival’s chances for success.

Other than the Everton match, the two biggest domestic games on Liverpool’s schedule will be the home games against Chelsea and Tottenham. Neither looks an easy proposition, but Liverpool will hope they can turn their dominant home form into 3 points against both sides.

City also have the prospect of a home clash with Tottenham and a tricky away game at rivals Manchester United. Will any of City’s remaining games concern them? Probably not, but they will be wary of the loss United inflicted upon them last season when the title could have been sealed. This year, however, they have been extremely impressive against the top 6 sides and actually have been more likely to drop points when they play lesser sides in the midst of fixture congestion.

Who will win? Manchester City. Manchester City will win and I predict we will see a record number of points for a team that finishes 2nd. Liverpool’s title drought will go on at least a little longer.

View Part #2 – Surprise Packages, Disappointments and Domestic CupsView Part #3 – Relegation and Roundup

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