Sunday 27 May 2018

Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester City: Who will win the race for the Premier League title?

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers knows he's four wins from the title
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers knows he's four wins from the title

Tim Rich

It is the final furlong of a thrilling season but of the three runners left in contention who is in best shape to take first prize? Tim Rich sifts the evidence


Why they might win it...

In John W Henry’s country they say you require one quality to reach the White House – “The Big Mo”, or what we call momentum.

More than any of their rivals, Liverpool have it. They are driving towards their 19th league title with the force and inevitability of an avalanche.

No team in Europe is in better form – Liverpool have won their last 10 games – and they have the easiest final day of the season.

If you wanted to pick any team to play at home to win the title, you would choose a Newcastle side that is disintegrating by the week and has not won at Anfield in 20 years.

Talk of the psychological hurdles Liverpool face is overdone. One by one, they have cleared them like an Aintree winner – Everton, Arsenal, Tottenham, the two Manchester clubs have been beaten by a collective scoreline of 19-3 since the turn of the year.

On Sunday they face Norwich, a team against whom they have scored 18 times in their previous four league games.

A quarter of a century after Hillsborough, there is a sense of destiny and romance about Liverpool that neither of their rivals possesses. Liverpool not only have the will to win, they are being willed to win all across the country.

Steven Gerrard, second left, celebrates with his team-mates following Liverpool's win over Manchester City

And why they might not...

“The expectation will suffocate them, they won’t be able to breathe,” George Graham told his Arsenal players before they faced Liverpool at Anfield needing to win by two clear goals to take the title.

And as everyone who has ever read Fever Pitch knows, that is precisely what they did.

The passion of a crowd is a two-edged weapon. Before Chelsea faced Bayern Munich in the European Cup final, Kenny Dalglish pointed out that it was a huge disadvantage to the Germans that it was being staged at the Allianz Arena.

Only in their own ground, with pressure pouring down from the stands, would Bayern have screwed up that penalty shoot-out. Curiously, in the 1984 final against Liverpool, Roma did exactly the same.

There are only three members of Brendan Rodgers’ squad who know what it is to win a Premier League, while Jordan Henderson’s three-match ban is a serious blow.

There will be a twist in Liverpool’s tale and it is likely to come at an unexpected place.

Liverpool’s record at Crystal Palace is appalling – they have failed to win any of their last four fixtures at Selhurst Park.

Tony Pulis, who never lost a home League game to Liverpool at Stoke, has already derailed Chelsea. What he has done once, he can do again.


Why they might win it...

It used to be said that if you could pick any batsman to play for your life, you would choose Geoff Boycott.

He may be as self-obsessed and individualistic as the great Yorkshireman, but if you had to choose any manager to set up a team to get a result for your life, it would be Jose Mourinho.

Of the three managers left in the title race, Mourinho – in terms of tactics and trophies – is clearly superior to Brendan Rodgers or Manuel Pellegrini, as anyone who saw Chelsea overcoming Liverpool at Stamford Bridge plus City home and away will testify.

If Chelsea win their remaining four games – in which they are at home to Norwich and Sunderland – they will be champions if City make any slip-up.

Everything pivots on Chelsea’s journey to Anfield. Naturally, Mourinho will be reminded of the European Cup semi-final he lost there to Luis Garcia’s “ghost goal”, but then he was playing a Liverpool managed by Rafael Benitez that, once ahead, was hard to break down.

Liverpool under Rodgers, a man who once worked for Mourinho, appear to know only one way to play and no team that has won a European Cup on Bayern Munich’s own ground is going to be intimidated.

Jose Mourinho celebrates with his players after Demba Ba's dramatic second goal.

And why they might not...

Campaigns on two fronts rarely work and Chelsea are the only one of the three for whom the Premier League is not the season’s ultimate prize.

In the last 10 years, seven English clubs have reached a European Cup final but only Manchester United have done so while winning the Premier League – and they did not do so while attempting to come from behind.

In 2011, United began the semi-finals six points clear. In 2009 they were three points clear of Liverpool but with a game in hand.

Their lead was four points in 2008. Chelsea will have to endure the intense atmosphere of the Vicente Calderon on the Tuesday before going to Anfield.

Their record is not encouraging. Of the 10 away games Chelsea have played before or after Champions League fixtures this season, they have lost five and drawn one.

In many ways, this is a perfect Mourinho campaign.

Only three teams have won the Premier League without scoring the most goals and two of them have been Chelsea sides managed by him. However, this time the lack of goals might tell.

It was September when Liverpool last failed to score at Anfield and Mourinho is likely to need at least two goals from somewhere.


Why they might win it...

In horse racing terms, you can make a case for Manchester City by stating they have done the course and distance. In football commentary terms you can just scream “Aguerroooooo” very loudly into a microphone.

It is that May day in 2012 which provides the core of Manchester City’s belief that they can still win the title.

The revival that won them the title began with six games remaining.

They have six games to go now. In 2012, they were five points behind Manchester United. They are currently seven adrift of Liverpool with two games in hand. Pellegrini’s side is actually in a better position than Roberto Mancini’s was.

If Liverpool and Chelsea draw when they meet at Anfield on Sunday week and cut each other’s throats – to quote one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s favourite phrases – the way is open once more for the Premier League’s slickest machine.

That they have six games rather than four gives Manchester City less of a margin of error but can you seriously see them not beating Sunderland, West Bromwich, Aston Villa and West Ham at the Etihad Stadium? Twelve points are already guaranteed.

Sergio Aguero is set to make his comeback from injury against Liverpool

And why they might not...

If Pellegrini’s side do not take the title, it will be because of their form away from Manchester.

Their two remaining away games look awkward and dangerous. They have managed one win in three Premier League games at Selhurst Park and two in 16 at Goodison.

Everton have lost once at home all season, and that to Sunderland when they were reduced to 10 men.

However, although City have the strongest squad of the three, it seems to be seizing up. Vincent Kompany, Pellegrini’s one world-class defender, was not fully fit against Liverpool while the loss of Yaya Touré deprived them not just of their best midfielder but their leading goalscorer.

Sergio Aguero has played a mere hour and half of football in 2014. The Abu Dhabi money may have been lavished on this squad, but when it comes to the climax its three key members cannot be relied on.

They also have the aftermath of defeat to live down, the knowledge that, had they avoided losing at Anfield on Sunday and held out for a dozen more minutes, they would still be in charge of their own destiny.

At Villarreal and Real Madrid, Pellegrini was known for good second-place finishes. This may be a stitch in the same pattern.

Online Editors

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport