The title race was over, or as many people thought, when Manchester City went 14 points clear of Liverpool following their 1-0 victory over Chelsea back in January.
Liverpool had come off three straight matches where they had failed to win, with a pair of 2-2 draws against Chelsea and Tottenham sandwiching a shock 1-0 defeat to Leicester on Boxing Day.
Yes, Jurgen Klopp’s side had two games in hand, but even an eight-point gap seemed far too much to make up on a relentless Pep Guardiola side not known for giving many points away.
Man City are in the driving seat to win their fourth title in five seasons under Pep Guardiola
Liverpool are waiting in the wings, hoping for a slip-up to keep their quadruple hopes alive
Klopp’s side are hoping for a favour from Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard and Aston Villa
Since that winter’s day, Liverpool have dropped points in just two out of 17 games – one of which was in the epic 2-2 draw with City last month in which they effectively didn’t lose any ground.
A SEASON OF TWO HALVES
Premier League table up till January 2
Man City – 56 (Played 22)
Chelsea – 43 (Played 22)
Liverpool – 42 (Played 20)
West Ham – 37 (Played 21)
Arsenal – 35 (Played 20)
Tottenham – 33 (Played 18)
Table since January 3
Liverpool – 47 (Played 17)
Tottenham – 35 (Played 19)
Man City – 34 (Played 15)
Newcastle – 34 (Played 17)
Arsenal – 31 (Played 17)
Chelsea – 27 (Played 14)
City who looked to have a comfortable road ahead of them, are still in the driver’s seat for their fourth title in fifth seasons – but only just.
A defeat to Tottenham and dropped points against Liverpool, Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Ham leaves the pressure on with just one point separating the sides going into the final day of the season.
However, throughout the season they have not dropped points in consecutive games.
Both teams have been here before. Liverpool beat Wolves on the final day of the 2018-19 season in which they finished one point behind Manchester City who thrashed Brighton 4-1.
This season almost feels like a carbon copy, only swapping the Seagulls for a side managed by one of Liverpool’s finest players.
Steven Gerrard, while the ultimate legend who will be focusing solely on Aston Villa, would certainly loved to be the one to play a part in the title going back to his former side – especially after his infamous slip in 2014 against Chelsea, which led to City beating the Reds for that year’s league.
There is more hope than expectation those for those in Red than Gerrard can provide a miracle with his new side, which also features former Liverpool stars Phillipe Coutinho and Danny Ings.
Aston Villa have suffered seven straight defeats to Pep Guardiola’s side, and playing at the Etihad where City have scored 13 goals in just their last three league outings there – means Liverpool are more hoping for a miracle.
Liverpool’s defensive improvements brought them back into contention for the league title
Liverpool threw away ten points from winning positions in the first-half of the season
Klopp will be hoping the mixed first-half to the season won’t cost them in the title race
Added to this, is the fact that no side in Premier League history has started the final day of the season in second and been the ones to lift the trophy at the end of the afternoon.
The closest was Manchester City’s dramatic triumph over their local rivals United in 2012, and since then, they have prevailed three times in final day shootouts against Liverpool.
After their 2-1 victory over Southampton on Tuesday, Klopp in regards to winning the title told the media: ‘It is possible, not likely but possible. That is enough.’
Liverpool will need to use that optimism on the final day to get the job done against Wolves at Anfield and hope for the best at the Etihad – or otherwise there’s still the potential of a treble.
If Aston Villa were to grab the first goal on Sunday, it could make things interesting in terms of the title race. This happened in 2019, when Brighton took a shock lead only for City to quickly respond and pull away.
Man City have dropped points against the likes of Tottenham during the second-half of the season
City though have scored a remarkable 96 goals in a year without a notable striker
Guardiola will hope his side don’t concede the first goal against Aston Villa on the final day
However, City’s record from coming behind this season would be enough to make their fans nervous. In the seven times they have conceded the first goal, only once have they walked away with the three points – in a 2-1 victory over Arsenal.
They have suffered three defeats (twice to Tottenham and once to Crystal Palace), and have drawn three games after falling behind (to Liverpool, Southampton and West Ham).
On the contrary, if City were to score the first goal they would take supreme confidence going off their record this season.
They have only dropped two points all season after scoring the first goal – in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool last month.
Something which Liverpool boss Klopp would have hoped his side had done better in the first-half of the season.
Up until arguably the game of the season against Chelsea, their 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in January, Liverpool had lost ten points from winning positions – a massive factor in the 14 point gap that opened up between them and City earlier this season.
There were a number of costly draws including a 3-3 draw with Brentford (where they were 3-2 up), 2-2 with Brighton (when they were 2-0 up), 2-2 with Tottenham (were 2-1 up) and what could prove to be most pivotal in this weekend’s outcome, Manchester City, where they threw away the lead twice in another 2-2 draw.
POINTS GAINED AND DROPPED
Points gained from losing positions
Liverpool – league high 17 points from 11 games – 1.5 per game
Man City – 6 points from 7 games – 0.86 per game
Points lost from winning positions
Manchester City – league best 2 points
Liverpool – 10 points (More than Man City, Brighton, Tottenham, Norwich, Brentford and Wolves)
Despite this, many would have both Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip in or around their Premier League team of the seasons, while summer signing Ibrahima Konate is still unbeaten as a Reds player.
A big part of this has been their defensive improvements since the 2-2 draw with Chelsea.
Having conceded nearly a goal a game (0.9) in their opening 20 games of the season, they have conceded just seven in their 17 outings since (0.41 per game).
On top of this they have kept more clean sheets, have faced less shots, won more tackles and duels, while also winning the possession in the final third at a higher rate.
Though Van Dijk was producing a level of performance far higher than should be expected at the start of the season given the injury he was returning from, his levels seemed to improve even further in the second-half of the campaign, with his partnerships alongside Konate and Matip looking like the most dominant in the league.
Liverpool’s ball retention whenever Thiago Alcantara has played has certainly helped as well, with the midfield looking much stronger with him in it alongside the likes of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson or Naby Keita.
The Reds have proven their resiliency all season long though which is a massive reason why they have won two cup finals, are in the Champions League final and still with an outside shot of the Premier League.
In the top flight, no team has won more points from losing positions than Liverpool – who have taken 17 points from 11 games – compared to City’s six from seven.
If City are to win the title a big credit must be given to their attack – even in the absence of a notable striker.
Though Liverpool take a higher number of shots per game, City’s shots on targets, conversion rate and touches in the opponent’s box all compare favourably to Klopp’s side.
One factor that could have an influence on City’s final game is their injuries in defence which Villa could look to exploit. Ruben Dias, Kyle Walker and John Stones won’t play again this season and their defence looked particularly vulnerable in the draw with West Ham last weekend.
However, they have scored at least two goals in every game since Crystal Palace shut them out in March, and Villa’s defensive record isn’t particularly great.
Liverpool play Wolves on the final day, much like they did in 2019, when they lost the title by one point
City earned a 4-1 victory at Brighton to record back-to-back Premier League title triumphs
If Gerrard was to help Liverpool write the fairytale ending on Sunday, it would be the biggest Premier League comeback in history.
The largest points gap any champion has had to the top of the table since the inception of the Premier League in 1992 is 12 points – when Manchester United clawed a 12-point gap to Newcastle in 1996.
Having let a place in the Champions League final slip through their grasps at the depth against Real Madrid, City will be determined not to let that happen again and end the season trophyless.