Trevor Steven: Only Manchester City can sew up Premier League in showdown with Liverpool
Sunday’s Premier League showdown between Manchester City and Liverpool has been billed as a title decider and it’s hard to disagree.
If either team wins they will not only have the upper hand in the table with seven games to play but also receive a huge boost – and inflict a body blow on their opponent.
Because City are one point ahead, the scales are tipped slightly in their favour; if they beat Liverpool the gap will be four points and I think the title will be theirs. If Liverpool win, on the other hand, I think it will go down to the wire.
There is barely a hair between these teams. If pushed, you might say that City were ever so slightly better on their day. But only just. Every time you come up with an argument for one of them, you think of a counter reason to favour the other.
City wobbled last month when they were held to a 0-0 draw by Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. But since then they have strung together three more wins in a row, making it 25 wins from their last 30 games in all competitions. Liverpool have won 17 of their last 20 matches.
It’s worth remembering that these are two pedigree horses and both are having standout seasons. In fact, City and Liverpool have set the bar so high over the last few years that there is very little margin for improvement at all.
City have had the upper hand in this era, winning three of the last four Premier League titles, albeit that since the start of the 2018-19 season there is just one point between their totals, in favour of Pep Guardiola’s team.
To win the league is one thing but to defend it is always tougher and what impresses me in particular about City is that they have managed to maintain incredibly high standards. That is now in their DNA under Guardiola. It’s similar with Liverpool under Klopp, but City have been doing it slightly longer.
Pep this week addressed suggestions that he can overthink tactics for big matches sometimes. He is partial to a dalliance with different formations and does use his squad differently to Klopp, who tends to replace like for like in most games.
City have not had a proper centre-forward all season, using a variety of different players as false nines in a system that defenders hate facing because they are being moved around constantly. Will Guardiola make a change too far? It will be interesting to see.
One factor I believe could have a bearing is the teams’ Champions League ties. There is no question that City’s against Atletico Madrid, is tougher than Liverpool’s, against Benfica.
Although City won the first leg 1-0 on Tuesday, the tie is far from over and next week’s second leg will be on Pep’s mind. Liverpool’s 3-1 win in Portugal, meanwhile, has given them more of a cushion ahead of a return match at Anfield on Wednesday.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. @TrevorSteven63.