So what happens now? With due respect to Burnley, Leicester and Brighton, it was generally accepted that the biggest opportunity for Manchester City to drop points and to allow Liverpool to seize the impetus in this closest of title races was the trip to Old Trafford on Wednesday evening. However Pep Guardiola’s men got over that hurdle and re-installed themselves at the top of the table with a single point lead but perhaps significantly with a five goal advantage in terms of goal difference.
Because I am stupid/ a glutton for punishment (please delete as appropriate!) I found myself at the Emirates watching another of Arsenal’s masterclasses in defensive ineptitude and so only caught brief glimpses of the Manchester derby. However from what I can gather it was relatively comfortable for the reigning champions, a straightforward case of holding their nerve and collecting another vital three points. Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp alluded to the relatively routine nature of the victory himself, commenting: “If anybody really thought United are capable of hurting City … City are just too good for that. It is not a lie.”
Of course Klopp’s charges have the chance to regain top spot in the race that seemingly changes leaders after each Liverpool or City match, when they host already relegated Huddersfield this evening. However they know with just three matches left that any ‘slip’ (my apologies Liverpool fans but I couldn’t resist that!), could prove if not fatal then certainly wounding.
Liverpool’s final two games see them travel to Newcastle to face former manager Rafa Benitez, and then host a Wolves team who have largely impressed throughout the season. Sandwiching the trip to St James Park, or whatever it is that Mike Ashley’s greed wants us to call it this season, is the not insignificant two-legged semi-final against Barcelona.
City for their part travel to Burnley this weekend, host Leicester City a week on Monday, and finish off the campaign at Brighton. With the two teams having been neck and neck for the entire campaign could it be that Liverpool’s involvement in the Champions League is the deciding factor? Will City come an unexpected cropper in their remaining games? Or will it be simply a case that even if Liverpool win all their games and collect a total of 97 (yes 97!) points, more than any previous Premier League title winner bar City last year, it still won’t be enough? Whoever emerges victorious in the end it has been an incredible race between two of the best teams that have ever graced the game in this country.
Just below those two fabulous sides is the battle that none of the four teams involved want to/ seem able to win. Tottenham and Chelsea appear best placed to make up the rest of the top four but both teams’ recent form has been patchy: Spurs have lost five of their last ten matches whilst Chelsea have picked up seventeen points from thirty in the same run. The comfort for those two might however come from the fact that Arsenal and Man United have been woeful over the last few matches having both lost three out of their last four and clearly showing the work needed for their current managers to undo the damage they have inherited.
Next week brings the re-joining of the European competitions and the very real potential that we could be looking at two all-English finals. First up on Tuesday night Tottenham host the surprise conquerors of continental giants Real Madrid and Juventus, Ajax.
The exciting young team from Amsterdam that is so reminiscent of the storied sides from the past will no doubt be cast as underdogs going into that match, a position that they will no doubt continue to relish. However they face a Spurs side shorn of Harry Kane through injury and Heung-Min Son through disciplinary indiscretion, and who have shown defensive fallibility in recent weeks, most specifically in conceding four goals at City and being opened up at the back with alarming ease in the second leg of the quarter final.
The following night Jürgen Klopp takes his Liverpool team to the Camp Nou in a finely poised tie that is almost too difficult to call. As we all know Liverpool love this competition and usually fancy their chances against anyone. Having come so close last season, denied only by the dark arts of Real Madrid’s villain-in-chief, one Sergio Ramos, and the ineptitude of their previous goalkeeper, there is a feeling that this might be the Reds’ year once again, especially given the general acceptance that despite leading La Liga by nine points and the continuing presence of you-know-who at number 10, this current Barca vintage is nowhere near the level of the majestic class of 2008-12. It seems to be generally agreed that whoever emerges victorious from this one will go on to lift the ‘cup with the big ears’.
For those of us condemned to Thursday night football, both Arsenal and Chelsea will be fairly confident of winning through to the final in Baku. Arsenal host one of Head Coach Unai Emery’s former clubs, Valencia, in the first leg and will look to utilise that home advantage, just as they did against Napoli, to establish a lead and keep a clean sheet. However Los Che sit sixth in La Liga and are by no means pushovers.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s elimination of Inter and Benfica in the previous rounds was something of a surprise to say the least given their relatively low profile, but in a similar vein to Ajax in the Champions League they are a youthful vibrant team with an explosive front line led by exciting 21 year old Serbian striker, Luka Jovic, whose eight goals in the competition so far have fired Eintracht through to the semis.
However it all plays out there is an exciting week of matches ahead to sate the appetite of even the most hopeless football obsessive; that is of course without even mentioning the mighty Leyton Orient’s date with destiny tomorrow lunchtime (https://football-nerd.org/2019/04/25/orient-face-their-date-with-destiny-on-saturday/)!