What Manchester City did last season in the league was beyond anything we have seen in football. Even the word juggernaut does not give justice to the way they steamrolled through the Premier League. There was no struggle or toil — just football of the highest class that dazzled the world. Most teams that are championship bound have to slog out low-scoring affairs every now and again to get the job done. But not City. This time around in the pursuit of retaining their status of champions they'll have to slog out victories.
City's 2-0 win at Goodison Park was an ugly soiree. It did put them back at the top of the table for the first time since MatchDay 15 albeit they have played one more game than second-place Liverpool. Only goal difference separates the two favorites. To quote Dominque Torreto, " It don't matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning's winning." The manner in which City got the win is immaterial. They'll gladly take the three points. With 13 games (or less for some) left of this season, the results teams will get trump their method of winning. At this point in time, City does have an advantage for Liverpool.
Maybe this was to expected given that Manchester City had the most players out of any club team to participate in the 2018 World Cup with 16. That combined with the Christmas grind would only mean that the City's players would have to kick-start their afterburners ahead of schedule.
But this is not the tail-end of the season where teams look to finish on the high. Early-to-mid February can be best described as the doldrums. The effects of the jam-packed December window now take their toll on the whole squad. The new signings of the transfer window have barely settled into their new teams (though neither City nor Liverpool signed anyone of major consequence). The burnout of competing on multiple fronts sets in, has both a physical but more importantly mental toll.. Liverpool has only won two of their past five league games. City's shock loss to Newcastle could be decisive in the long-run given that Liverpool pick-up more points per game on average and have a game in hand.
City no longer appears like the invincible side of last year. Liverpool could have had a 10-point gap had they come out on top at the Etihad which would have effectively put them in pole position for good. Now, they are showing the same defensive deficiencies that held them back last season. Other teams know that the two-title favorites are vulnerable. Liverpool has drawn twice after a 4-3 win against Crystal Palace and could have lost all three games. Manchester City was a shadow of themselves against Everton and was unconvincing and uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball against Arsenal.
Man City was able to get the three points in both games through hook or crook. And Liverpool have only squandered their chance to maintain their sizeable lead with drab performances against West Ham and Leicester.
This title run will be decided by the team that is mentally stronger and is willing to compromise on their style of play in favor of results. The one that can put the collective good ahead of the incentives in their contracts.
This really should be a three-man race with Tottenham only five points behind the league leaders. Even though they are right in the hunt with Dele Alli and Harry Kane expected to return from injuries for a final push, the race for the title still appears to be between the top two teams. However, both have a different set of challenges facing them.
At the beginning of the season, Liverpool's depth could be pointed out as their newest and most durable asset. Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, the self-appointed best defender in the world Dejan Lovren, and Wijnaldum all missed 1-1 draw against West Ham. Adam Lallana has been plagued with injuries over the past 18-months and is far from being in peak shape. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may only make his season debut next month. Nathaniel Clyne has been a benchwarmer for the past two seasons, and with him being out on load, Milner has had to feature as a makeshift right-back.
Their problems are not limited to a lack of depth alone, but a lack of production. The front-three of Salah, Mane, and Firmino haven't quite replicated the scoring of last season though nobody outside of the three has scored since Fabinho who rounded out a 4-0 win against Newcastle. Add that to the fact that Liverpool hasn't won a league title (and the Premier League since it's inception) in nearly three decades. The mounting pressure is starting to show on the faces of players and Jurgen Klopp.
City are in the hunt for the quadruple with Liverpool crashing out in both domestic cup competitions. This should be advantage Liverpool who have a lighter schedule to finish the season. Rest and recovery should be the defining factor that should Liverpool the edge. Nonetheless, the rhythm and momentum that can be built by playing once every four days can give The Citizens the competitive edge needed to finish the season on the high.
The World-Cup might have taken a toll on Manchester City, but with a battle-tested squad like no other and are the defining club of this decade. In contrast, Liverpool's last trophy came in the form of the 2011-12 League Cup and is largely forgotten by the average fan. The Reds are known for their have nots rather than their haves - not something that they'll want to carry with them towards the tail-end of the season approaching.
Only a dozen games remain for City with Liverpool having a game in hand. Both teams still have plenty of ground to cover as they try to distance themselves from one another - and let's not forget their European obligations as well. Both teams will not go undefeated to finish the season. Fatigue and the mental anguish of not being called the champions will have an effect on Liverpool and City. The Reds have had plenty of chances to increase the gap and effectively end the conversation of there being a title run. The win at Goodison Park proved one thing, City can get the job done when their flair and excitement are lacking.
We have ourselves are title race that'll be etched in the history books.