LONDON: One point separates the cumulative tallies of Liverpool and Manchester City over the past four Premier League seasons so there is little surprise that they head into the final weekend of the current campaign with all still to play for.
The final day of the season promises some blockbuster action as Champions League qualification and relegation go down to the wire on Sunday, but the title race is where most eyes will be trained.
The battle for supremacy between City and Liverpool has been a repeating storyline over recent seasons and the two sides go into the final weekend with Pep Guardiola’s champions one point ahead of their rivals on Merseyside.
And to illustrate just how evenly matched the sides are, City have amassed 355 points since the start of the 2018-19 season and Liverpool 354.
Guardiola will go one better than any club he has been at previously if he wins his fourth Premier League trophy when his City side take on Aston Villa.
The Spaniard has won three league championships in charge of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City but will reach unchartered territory at the Etihad if his side get over the line and clinch their sixth Premier League title overall.
They top the standings on 90 points, with Juergen Klopp’s quadruple-chasing Liverpool, who finish at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, on 89. The situation has echoes of the 2018-19 season, when City pipped Liverpool to the title by a single point.
“We know what we have to do. Be ourselves and give everything we have to win the game,” Guardiola told a news conference on Friday. “It’s difficult to control your emotions when you know what you are playing for. The players are human beings but it’s football, when you think that it is over it is not over.”
City know that to their cost having been minutes away from the Champions League final only to blow a two-goal lead in their semi-final, second leg against Real Madrid earlier this month.
The importance is unnecessary to tell them,” added Guardiola. “They know it, they feel it.”
Liverpool will instead face Real in next weekend’s battle to be crowned champions of Europe in Paris as they remain in contention for an unprecedented haul of four major trophies in the one season.
Klopp’s men have already lifted the League Cup and FA Cup.
“Imagine somebody tells you before the season you’re going to be in all three cup finals and want to fight for the league,” said Liverpool manager Klopp. “The boys did it — fed by the people here in the building, by our supporters, by all these kind of things. It’s a fantastic time for a Liverpool supporter and now we have to make sure we enjoy the last two games as well.”
The presence of Liverpool great and now Villa manager Steven Gerrard on the opposition bench at the Etihad adds extra intrigue to the decisive day in the title race.
Gerrard famously never won a league title in his 17-year career at Anfield, but could deliver one on a plate to his old club.
Anything other than a City win will allow Liverpool to take the title with victory at home to Wolves.
“We’ll go out at the weekend and give it everything we’ve got to try and get points for Aston Villa and our supporters,” said Gerrard. “If that inevitably helps Liverpool, fantastic, but my priority is to try and get points for Aston Villa.”
Chelsea will join City and Liverpool in next season’s Champions League, with north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal still battling for fourth spot.
Spurs are in the driving seat as they just need a draw away to already-relegated Norwich to secure a return to the Champions League.
Back-to-back defeats have seen Arsenal throw away a golden chance to get back to European football’s top table.
The Gunners have to win at home to an Everton side fresh from sealing their Premier League status and hope Spurs stumble at Carrow Road.
Manchester United and West Ham United are guaranteed European football next season but their battle to be in the Europa League rather than the Conference League has also gone to the final day.
Incoming United manager Erik Ten Hag is expected to be in attendance for their trip to Crystal Palace.
Should United fail to win, the Hammers can finish sixth with victory at Brighton.
At the bottom of the table, one of Burnley and Leeds United will be relegated.
Burnley have the advantage of just having to match Leeds’ result thanks to their superior goal difference.
Leeds travel to 11th-placed surprise side of the season Brentford, while Burnley host Newcastle United looking to avoid dropping to the second-tier for the first time since 2015.
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2022