By Alywin Chew
The showdown between Liverpool and Manchester City on early Monday morning may have ended in a 2-2 stalemate, but this match was anything but stale.
Man City were scintillating in attack. Kevin De Bruyne was at his best, pulling all the strings in midfield and orchestrating wave after wave of attacks against a nervy Liverpool defence. Joao Cancelo made Mo Salah look like a lost puppy trying to find its way home.
Liverpool decided to play it safe and had to claw themselves back into the game after going behind twice. Its leaky defence, again, was a worrying sight. Trent-Alexander Arnold was woeful for most of the game. Still, credit must be given to the Reds for their spirited comeback.
A draw is good news only for City, who I believe have practically won the league with this result.
I know, there are still seven games to go, 21 points up for grabs, and Liverpool are just one point behind the league leaders.
But just look at the remaining fixtures for each of these title contenders and it’s almost impossible to deny that City have the path of lesser resistance.
The reigning league champions face the following clubs in the final stretch:
Wolves, Brighton, Watford, Leeds, Newcastle, West Ham and Aston Villa.
Liverpool’s road to the title, on the other hand, is filled with potential banana skins:
Manchester United, Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, Southampton and Wolves.
Liverpool’s next match against its arch-nemesis Man United will be the first of three banana skins. The Red Devils are still reeling from their loss to Everton and will be determined to make a comeback. Besides, current form always goes out the window in the North-West derby. Liverpool are not guaranteed a win even though they trounced Man United 5-0 last October. A very pissed off Cristiano Ronaldo will also be out for revenge.
Coming off the back of this massive derby will be another derby that could very well derail Liverpool’s title hopes. Everton’s league standing (17th) might suggest that they do not have the capability to beat their high-flying neighbours, but it is exactly because of this tenuous position they find themselves in that Liverpool can expect stiff resistance. The desperation to avoid relegation will have Everton firing on all cylinders.
The biggest challenge, however, will come from Tottenham. Yes, Spurs do have a penchant for sputtering, but there’s no denying that Antonio Conte’s team is on fire. Mind you, they were the side that beat Man City 3-2 at the Etihad in February. They have since gone on to thrash the likes of Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Aston Villa, scoring a whopping 18 goals in these four matches. Liverpool will have home ground advantage, but if this morning’s defensive showing was anything to go by, the visitors could very well run riot at Anfield.
So, to all my fellow Liverpool supporters, it’s time to temper our expectations. Yes, the season isn’t over. Yes, the fat lady has yet to sing. But let’s not harbour big hopes of a 20th title win. Objectively speaking, the chances are low.
All that being said, I’m also keeping my fingers crossed for this uber dramatic ending to the season: Liverpool and Man City win all six games leading to the final day, only for Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa to nick an unlikely win against City in the 90th minute as Liverpool draw with Wolves but eventually win the title based on goal difference.
Man, what a season finale that would be.