Ignore Manchester City at your peril
While the media has had its focus on one side of Manchester, the blue half of the city has been getting on with being the closest challengers to league leaders Liverpool.
Consecutive defeats to Palace and Leicester at the tail-end of 2018 had put tiny doubts in the mind as to City’s chances of defending their title. A win against unbeaten Liverpool in Gameweek 21 was exactly what their season needed, and resounding cup victories (7-0 over Rotherham, 9-0 against Burton Albion) showed that the club were focused on adding more silverware to the trophy cabinet—the win over Burton in the first leg of the League Cup effectively put them into the final, where they will play either Chelsea or Spurs.
A home game against Wolves would seem to be the perfect way to further close the gap on Liverpool, but the visitors had pulled off a number of good results against the so-called Big Six, so a win was not guaranteed.
Happily for City, this was not the same Wolves that beat Spurs the other week, conceding a goal within 10 minutes and then having a player sent off after less than 20.
The rest of the game then became a training session, with City scoring two more and enjoying 76 percent possession. The only fly in the ointment was the fact that they missed out on the chance to register 100 goals for the season to date … a statistic that is likely to change when they visit Huddersfield in Gameweek 23.
Liverpool remain the ones to beat
Prior to City’s game against Wolves, Liverpool had opened up a seven-point gap at the top.
With only one defeat so far this season, Jurgen Klopp’s team has effectively turned the title into a two-horse race, with numerous pundits predicting that this is year when Liverpool ends its wait for a Premier League trophy. The team has kept 13 clean sheets so far and only conceded 10 goals all season, a concrete defense that has allowed them to benefit from the goals being scored by Salah and co.
In fact, only one team in EPL history has conceded less goals than Liverpool after 22 games—Chelsea in 2004/05, 8—and there is little doubt that the acquisition of a top-class defender (Van Dijk) and a goalkeeper (Alisson) in the last 12 months has been money well-spent.
Their latest win—1-0 away at Brighton & Hove Albion—offered more evidence that Liverpool are the real deal, with 70 percent possession and a sense that the team can get the job done when required. Losses to City and Wolves in the previous two games, the latter in the FA Cup, had made people question if Liverpool had the necessary cajones to win the league, but this victory was way more comfortable than the scoreline suggests.
According to the BBC, this match demonstrated the “efficiency and control of a side capable of winning while not at their best,” with a Mo Salah penalty securing all three points. Brighton did OK without ever looking like they were going to beat the league leaders, and their fight to stay up will not depend on the result of this game.
“I think it was the most mature performance we have made so far,” Klopp said, in an interview with the BBC. “There were a few situations where we could have been a bit more inspired, creative and cool. We know we can control the game and we are not that childish anymore.”