11 April 2019
It is, quite simply, likely to end as the most high calibre of Premier League title races.
In the red corner, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool; a team who have gone from pretenders to contenders, sitting two points clear at the top of the table inside the second week of April.
In the blue corner, Pep Guardiola’s defending champions; the centurions hoping to end their season with a truly unprecedented quadruple.
Two teams who have raised the standard to levels never before seen in a title race. It’s incredible to think that Liverpool could end the season on a whopping 97 points and still not end their 29-year wait for a league title.
It’s a potential heart-wrenching prospect their supporters will be acutely aware of.
On the other hand City have such little margin for mistake as they chase down a four-trophy haul that has never been done before.
The elevation of English football’s top two teams has been breathtaking. Liverpool’s growth has been rapid over the past 18 months. The Reds officially wrapped up qualification to next season’s Champions League with a 3-1 win at Southampton on Friday night.
The two previous campaigns, they have secure fourth on the final day of the Premier League season. A mixture of significant spending and wise recruitment has enabled Klopp to build a team good enough to last the pace alongside a side some champion as the Premier League’s best ever.
Simong Mignolet is one of two players who remain at the club from the last time they were locked in battle with City for the title. The 2014 vintage under Brendan Rodgers fell agonisingly short, but the Belgium keeper believes the 2019 bunch are different.
“As a whole, this is the strongest team I’ve ever experienced at Liverpool,” said Mignolet this week. “At the back we are very stable with Virgil van Dijk and in the front you have three goalscorers with Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. The latter is also very strong in defending, a very complete attacker.
“We have a strong team, we are very strong across the board and in the past we also had a strong team with, among others, Steven Gerrard, Phillipe Coutinho and Luis Suarez, but then we were perhaps lacking a little width.“It’s been 29 years since Liverpool won the title once again and the fans obviously want that very much. As a group of players, we want to win everything: the Champions League and the Premier League.”
City, for their part, have already safely stowed away the first trophy of the campaign, having beaten Chelsea on penalties in the Carabao Cup final. An FA Cup final appearance was also secured when they beat Brighton last weekend.
A final meeting with Watford will have the reigning champions confident of another domestic cup success when they square off at Wembley on May 18.
But if City were to fall short in their pursuit of the Premier League and Champions League, but triumph in the FA Cup, would that constitute a failure or success for Guardiola this term?
It is on such fine details that legacies are written. It is this astronomical standard that Guardiola and his players have pinned themselves up against this season.
One the hand, they are looking to achieve something that has never been done before. They should be applauded and lauded for still being in the hunt at this stage of the season.
However, one misstep along the way and it could all burn to the ground. Their dream of usurping local rivals Manchester United and their treble of 1999 could come to a grinding halt.
They were given a sharp reminder of such a fact when they were beaten 1-0 by Tottenham in the first leg of their last-eight clash with Tottenham in the Champions League on Tuesday.
But when size of the achievement is so high, the room for error gets smaller. It is something the City boss will have to skilfully negotiate over the next few weeks.
Wherever the respective points tally land on May 12 and whoever the identity of the champions are, these two teams have taken the standard to new heights this season.
It promises to be an utterly thrilling run-in for the neutral.