The final day of the Premier League season is upon us, and what a campaign it has been for both Manchester City and Liverpool.
Nobody thought anyone would get near Pep Guardiola’s title-winning centurions, but Jurgen Klopp’s resilient Liverpool side have run them extremely close – they may even snatch their crown from them if Brighton perform a miracle and the Reds can beat Wolves.
Just a point separates City and Liverpool, and having lost just one game all season with 94 points under their belts, the fact that Klopp’s men may not win the title just goes to show the quality on offer in arguably the best title race in years.
Ahead of the final day, we’ve taken time to chat with Football FanCast’s assistant editor and Manchester City fan, Jack Saville, and staff writer Charles Jones, a Liverpool supporter, to discuss the big talking points as a truly memorable campaign reaches its conclusion…
Q: They’ve barely put a foot wrong all season, but Liverpool look like missing out on a maiden Premier League title. Where do you think they lost it and what could they have done better?
Jack: “I’m in danger of sitting on the fence here but I think it undermines what Liverpool have done to suggest that they have in any way lost it. Jurgen Klopp has performed miracles with his squad this season and they will only be thwarted by virtue of Manchester City’s unfathomable supremacy. They have, of course, had some huge strokes of luck along the way, but you need that to have any chance of coming close to Pep Guardiola’s side.”
Charles: “Liverpool definitely lost the title back in January and February. We’ve lost just one game all season, but the draws against West Ham, Leicester, Man Utd and Everton were really costly.”
Consecutive 1-1 draws against Leicester and West Ham look like they’ll cost Liverpool in the grand scheme of things, which will really disappoint Klopp as his men simply didn’t look up for it in those two games. Squandered chances against Everton and a stuttering game against United also haven’t helped, and you simply can’t afford any minor errors when it’s Guardiola you’re up against.
Q: Pep Guardiola’s men seem virtually unstoppable, but Liverpool have ran them admirably close this season. What do City need to do in the summer to record three titles in a row next season and become the first team to do so in over a decade? (If they win on Sunday that is!)
Jack: “Regardless of whether City manage to achieve a monumental feat and defend the Premier League title for the first time, they’ll need to ensure they add a defensive midfielder of immense quality in the summer as well as a new left-back. Benjamin Mendy needs a serious challenger. As much as I admire Oleksandr Zinchenko I don’t see him as a solid long-term option and I doubt Guardiola does either. It’s a romantic story but not one which will run for much longer. Ilkay Gundogan has been incredible in the holding role in recent weeks and his run of games in the side has facilitated an impressive transformation, but it’s no secret that more depth is needed to ease the burden on Fernandinho. If Nicolas Otamendi packs his bags then I imagine a new centre-back will arrive.”
Charles: “City seem unstoppable. They have incredible depth in every position but if they are to strengthen anywhere they need a new left back and a new midfielder. Fernandinho isn’t getting any younger and Benjamin Mendy looks to be too injury prone. If Kevin De Bruyne can go all of next season injury free then it’ll be tough for anyone to overcome them.”
How do you improve one of the Premier League’s greatest ever sides? Well, there are a few areas that need some polishing. Like Charles alluded to, Mendy’s fitness problems and constant off-field antics seem to be causing Guardiola some angst, whilst the pivotal Fernandinho has just celebrated his 34th birthday.
Q: Where do you think Brighton can hurt City this Sunday? And likewise, where do you think Wolves could cause Liverpool problems?
Jack: “Chris Hughton is an excellent defensive tactician and Brighton are capable of frustrating the very best in the division on their day. Expect a deep line and plenty of bodies behind the ball. City are well accustomed to breaking teams down who play in this manner but the enormity of the occasion will add an extra layer of intensity to the challenge. Wolves’ strength lies on the counter-attack, as the top-six clubs have discovered this season. Technically they are strong and they have players with the vision to carve Liverpool open in the blinking of an eye, and equally the players to finish clinically inside the penalty area. Watch out for goal-machine Raul Jimenez: he’s the man who could break Liverpool hearts. “
Charles: “Brighton have had a tendency to get results against big teams, beating Man Utd and drawing twice with Arsenal. Glenn Murray is exceptional when it comes to putting away chances so that’s where City will have to be careful. Wolves have an incredible record against the top six and their strengths are well documented; depending on whether or not Andy Robertson will be fit after his injury against Barcelona, Matt Doherty could have a great day at Anfield.”
The Seagulls will be starved of the ball inside their own stadium on Sunday, no doubt. Their best bet at causing an upset will be to focus on set pieces whilst staying solid at the back, where the likes of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy can be a real force when they’re up for it.
Wolves have beaten every European Cup finalist this season in Liverpool, Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea, which goes to show just how good they can be against the top sides.
Q: 90th minute. The scores are level. Who do you choose to score an Aguero-esque title winner for your respective side?
Jack: “Wow, what a question! I was there when Aguero scored against QPR and I don’t think my ticker has ever quite recovered. Given everything that has happened in recent years I simply cannot look beyond Raheem Sterling. Imagine that, the former Liverpool player – routinely booed by the Anfield faithful and slandered in the media for almost the entirety of his short career – scoring a last minute winner to steal the title away from his former club. It’s truly the stuff of fairytales but I think football has had enough miraculous drama for one week already…”
Charles: “Sadio Mane. He may not score as many goals as Mohamed Salah but he doesn’t shy away from the big occasion; his goals in the Champions League over the past two years have shown that.”
We would be extremely lucky to see another moment of that ilk ever again, as Martin Tyler famously exclaimed. I’m sure that most Liverpool fans would like to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain net a goal of such importance, having endured the toughest time of his career injury wise, or the inspirational Jordan Henderson.
City? Well, City don’t deserve another one of those moments. One per lifetime is enough, don’t be greedy!
Q: How big of a challenge will it be for Liverpool to pick themselves up and go again next season from a mental aspect, considering they’ve lost just one league game?
Jack: “The way this Liverpool team are playing I’d have to say it will make them stronger. They are relentlessly determined and I don’t see them easing up until they clinch the title. Perhaps the double blow of losing in the Champions League final and ending the season with nothing would damage them mentally, particularly given they lost against Real Madrid last season as well, but I think they’ll push Man City all the way once again whatever happens. I backed them to fade away in the early stages of the season and they proved me wrong, so I could be way off the mark once again here…”
Charles: “Losing just one league game all year and not winning the title will hurt Jurgen Klopp’s side, but they recovered from losing the Champions League final last year by reaching the final again this season. There shouldn’t be a problem in terms of motivation for Liverpool, just watch the second leg against Barcelona to see what mental grit they have.”
To add to Charles’ point, Klopp has lost all three finals that he has led his Liverpool side to, and always seems to improve them and get them going again next season; finishing 2nd this year will be tough to take, but you can expect the Reds to be back chomping at the bit next term.
Finally, what are your score predictions for the two games?
Jack: “Brighton 0-3 Manchester City & Liverpool 3-1 Wolves.”
Charles: “Brighton 1-4 Manchester City & Liverpool 2-0 Wolves.”