Trevor Steven: Premier League title rivals Manchester City and Liverpool united by outstanding coaches and refusal to give in
However the Premier League concludes on Sunday, I don’t think the competition has ever seen two better teams than Manchester City and Liverpool. Both are a credit to the division and could easily be champions in any other season.
And thank goodness for Liverpool for hanging in there and keeping pace with City until the final weekend. If they had been happy to finish a comfortable second then this title race would have been done and dusted weeks ago.
The top two have been head and shoulders above the rest. For squads full of international players, the other four members of the Big Six have fallen so far short – there are 23 points between second and third – that it’s a bit embarrassing.
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City and Liverpool have set a new standard and it is hard to imagine they won’t be in a two-horse race again next year. There is more to come from both teams and that is an intimidating prospect for Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United.
As an Evertonian, I don’t want to see Liverpool winning things but you have to give credit where it’s due. They play with pace, directness and dynamism and they get you on the edge of your seat. I enjoy watching them and Reds fans must be thrilled.
They have matured this season, and have quality and depth in every position. If they do finish second having only lost once in the league, you’d have to feel for them.
Either way, the inconsistency that has plagued the club in recent years is now firmly in the past. And given how well they progressed through the Champions League, they have re-established themselves as one of Europe’s leading teams.
City have different qualities but are also exceptional. Their play is more possession-based than pace-driven, although they can go that way with Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane.
It would be huge achievement if they became the first team to defend the Premier League since 2009. Liverpool have kept them under the cosh; to have not wavered when their best player, Kevin De Bruyne, has been injured for much of the season, shows how strong City are. Sergio Aguero deserves a special mention for shouldering the striking burden for most of the campaign.
Two factors unite City and Liverpool: outstanding coaches and their refusal to give up. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have deployed players in their specific strategies but without suffocating their talents – in fact, taking them to another level. They have polished diamonds.
And it’s no coincidence that Guardiola and Klopp are forever praising their sides’ determination. They have been relentless every game, and you can’t say that about the chasing pack. Talent doesn’t win anything on its own; the best teams work as hard as, if not harder than, the competition.
Unless they fall at the final hurdle, Sunday’s trip to Brighton, City will be champions again. With an FA Cup final in prospect a few days later, they are just 180 minutes from a probable domestic treble and have only fallen slightly short of a quadruple.
I can’t see Brighton scoring against City or keeping a clean sheet. The current champions’ ability to manoeuvre the ball – their cuteness – is just too strong. When it comes down to it, maybe that extra creativity in midfield has been the very fine margin between them and Liverpool.