So now we most definitely do have a title race.
After seeing his team come from behind to beat Norwich 3-1, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp went over to the Kop and gave them his customary three fist pumps, which were met with loud cheers.
A couple of hours later and those celebrations on Merseyside started afresh as Harry Kane gave Tottenham a dramatic late victory at Manchester City.
Liverpool got the job done at Anfield as they beat Norwich City 3-1 on Saturday afternoon
They then watched as Manchester City suffered a shock 3-2 home defeat to Tottenham
The gap between the top two will become three points if Liverpool beat Leeds on Wednesday
Those rollercoaster few hours have reignited the Premier League. What seemed a foregone conclusion, with City romping to fourth title win in five seasons, is now up for grabs again.
If Liverpool beat Leeds United at Anfield on Wednesday night, they will move within three points of City with 12 rounds of games left to play.
Given that the teams are set to meet at the Etihad Stadium over the weekend of April 9/10, there’s every chance Liverpool could still win the league.
So many factors remain at play, however. The Premier League is far from the only obligation for both Liverpool and City. Both teams must also overcome some demanding fixtures between now and May 22.
We take a closer look at who is better equipped to go on and win the title from here.
Pep Guardiola (left) was left dismayed after City’s loss but Jurgen Klopp (right) was delighted
DIFFICULTY OF REMAINING FIXTURES
Liverpool certainly aren’t short of momentum right now. Klopp’s side have hit their stride at a good time, winning their last eight games in all competitions. They haven’t suffered defeat since December 28 at Leicester.
Their next league engagement, against Leeds in midweek, should see them continue this form and really breathe down the necks of City.
However, tougher matches against West Ham, Arsenal and Manchester United lie in store before that potential title-decider at the Etihad in April.
West Ham, though, have seen their form drop off a little while a United side thrashed 5-0 at Old Trafford aren’t going to hold any fear. Arsenal at the Emirates on March 16 is the tougher test.
Mohamed Salah produced a masterclass as Liverpool thrashed Man United 5-0 in October
Liverpool had to settle for a draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge after going two ahead
Post-City and Liverpool actually look to have a favourable run-in. Yes, there is the matter of a Merseyside derby in late April but they’re at home and overwhelming favourites.
Early May brings a home game with Tottenham, who obviously have just got the better of City and could well still be fighting for a top four position.
But otherwise, games with Watford, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Southampton and Wolves shouldn’t present too many problems.
As for City, their next assignment comes at Everton this Saturday and Liverpool, not in league action because of the Carabao Cup final, will be hoping for a favour from their neighbours.
It’s then a home Manchester derby with United on March 6. Though United have a good recent record at the Etihad, City will begin as favourites.
City won 2-0 at Old Trafford and will be favourites to beat Man United again on March 6
Harry Kane scores Tottenham’s winning goal on Saturday – Spurs have been a bogey side
A more straightforward run of Crystal Palace, Brighton and Burnley then leads into the big Liverpool clash.
Beyond that, City must play Wolves, Watford, Leeds, Newcastle, West Ham and Aston Villa.
Assuming that Pep Guardiola’s team aren’t too scarred from that late loss to Tottenham, you can’t see them dropping two many points aside from the Liverpool clash.
The visits to Wolves and West Ham could have some jeopardy but it certainly isn’t what you’d describe as a daunting run-in for the reigning champions and so, in theory, they should keep their noses in front of Liverpool.
Man City run-in
April fixtures onwards TBC
Saturday Everton (A)
March 6 Manchester United (H)
March 14 Crystal Palace (A)
March 19 Brighton (H)
April 2 Burnley (A)
April 9 Liverpool (H)
April 16 Wolves (A)
April 23 Watford (H)
April 30 Leeds United (A)
May 7 Newcastle United (H)
May 15 West Ham United (A)
May 22 Aston Villa (H)
Wednesday Leeds United (H)
March 5 West Ham United (H)
March 12 Brighton (A)
March 16 Arsenal (A)
March 20 Manchester United (H)
April 2 Watford (H)
April 9 Manchester City (A)
April 16 Aston Villa (A)
April 23 Everton (H)
April 30 Newcastle United (A)
May 7 Tottenham Hotspur (H)
May 15 Southampton (A)
May 22 Wolves (H)
BIG MATCH PERFORMANCE
With all that in mind, how do the two title rivals compare when it comes to the big games?
The two sides served up a thrilling 2-2 draw at Anfield back on October 3, with City twice fighting back after falling behind to ensure a share of the points. At that point, it was Chelsea leading the table but Thomas Tuchel’s side have faded away.
Klopp’s side have been pretty reliable in the bigger league games this season but their record is far from perfect. They haven’t been able to get the better of Chelsea, drawing both.
At Anfield back in August, they were unable to find a winner playing against 10 men for half the contest and at Stamford Bridge they threw away a two-goal lead.
Mohamed Salah was on target in the 2-2 draw between the two teams earlier in the season
City twice came back to level at Anfield in a thrilling second-half to the October’s contest
They thumped both Man United (5-0) and Arsenal (4-0) but allowed an advantage to slip away at Tottenham in another 2-2 draw. Their two league losses this season came at Leicester and West Ham.
So we certainly cannot rule out another slip-up in a match they’re favourites to win between now and the end of the campaign.
City have performed better against Chelsea this season, winning 1-0 both home and away, while they also won at Old Trafford, albeit by a less emphatic scoreline.
Arsenal have also been bettered twice, 5-0 at the Etihad in August, and then deep into stoppage time at the Emirates on New Year’s Day.
Rodri scored deep into stoppage time as City claimed a crucial win at Arsenal in January
Kevin De Bruyne (right) scored the decisive goal as City beat Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium
Tottenham, whether under Nuno Espirito Santo on the opening weekend of the season or Antonio Conte on Saturday, have proved an unexpected bogey team this season.
But their only other league defeat was at home to Crystal Palace back in October, the kind of off-day Guardiola’s team tend to have two or three times each season.
Every other hurdle has been cleared pretty comfortably this season and this latest setback is likely to be little more than blip.
MANAGER RUN-IN EXPERIENCE
Both Klopp and Guardiola have experience of successfully guiding their teams over the finishing line in the Premier League. There’s no shortage of experience or knowledge here.
Last season, Liverpool were never really in the title picture as City stormed away with it. Indeed, Guardiola’s side were able to ease off a little and focus on reaching a first Champions League final instead as they lost four league games from March onwards.
The previous season, interrupted for three months by the pandemic, Liverpool galloped clear during an outstanding first half of the season and not even the Covid pause could stop them.
Manchester City are aiming to win the Premier League title for the fourth time in five seasons
Pep Guardiola’s side weren’t really tested last season but it won’t be a procession this year
Ultimately, they finished 18 points clear of City, ending a 30-year wait for the title but at no stage were under any serious pressure.
They too had the luxury of losing a few games post-restart – including a 4-0 drubbing at City – without the destination of the title being in any doubt.
More instructive is the 2018-19 season, which saw City pip Liverpool to the title by a solitary point.
We had the quite remarkable situation here of neither side dropping a single point in the final nine matches of the season.
Liverpool were similarly dominant when they won the league in 2020, winning by 18 points
Jurgen Klopp will draw on the lessons learned from that 2019-20 season in the new title race
City’s run was even more impressive – they won their last 14 league games, enough to offset the fact that Liverpool went their last 17 undefeated after losing to City on January 3.
While all that was going on, Liverpool won the Champions League and City won both domestic cups.
So there’s no question at all that both clubs are expert in holding their nerve during a title run-in, of finding different ways to win games and not being fussy about it.
They’ve duelled one another in a title race before and will be fully prepared for another one.
KNOW-HOW IN THE DRESSING ROOM
Both teams have won the title recently so their squads are packed with players who know precisely what it takes to get the job done.
Klopp speaks fondly of his ‘mentality monsters’, the trait of not knowing when you’re beaten and they’ll certainly need to draw on all that belief between now and May.
Guardiola’s City maintain the highest standards and are capable of dominating pretty much any opponent with all departments of the team contributing the goals.
Guardiola insists on high standards from his players, who are well-versed in winning trophies
City’s team is packed with multiple Premier League champions from their recent successes. The only exception is Jack Grealish, who only arrived from Aston Villa last summer.
Liverpool, too, have a core of players who were also part of their 2020 success and it will fall to them to impart the knowledge and motivation needed to those who’ve come in since.
Ibrahima Konate, for example, hasn’t won a major honour in his career and, if you exclude a Championship title with Wolves, neither has Diogo Jota.
But Thiago, who arrived in September 2020, is a serial champion with both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, so knows precisely what is required here.
Thiago (left) and Luis Diaz (right) have come in since Liverpool’s Premier League success in 2020 but have their own experience of winning silverware
The newest arrival, Colombian Luis Diaz, also won titles with Porto so the unique pressures that lie ahead won’t be a new phenomenon to him either.
You can’t deny that City have the fresher experience of this but Liverpool are hardly novices when it comes to the so-called ‘squeaky bum time’. Klopp and their dressing room leaders will ensure they’re well prepped.
The Premier League is far from the only thing on the minds of both.
Liverpool can win the League Cup for the first time since 2012 this weekend when they play Chelsea at Wembley. This competition has been City’s fiefdom in recent seasons so it will be refreshing to see a new name on the trophy.
If the Reds win that, it’ll provide another motivation to add more silverware. Both clubs are still in the FA Cup, with Liverpool set to host Norwich and City heading to Championship strugglers Peterborough United in next week’s fifth round. Again, both will have designs on going all the way.
Diogo Jota celebrates scoring against Arsenal as Liverpool won their Carabao Cup semi-final
But it’s the Champions League that will be the true distraction, especially for City.
They came so close to ending their agonising wait to be crowned Champions of Europe last season, losing to Chelsea, and will be obsessed with finally doing it this time.
Last week’s 5-0 demolition of Sporting Lisbon in the last-16 will have made the rest of the continent sit up and take notice.
Liverpool claimed a noteworthy victory away to Inter Milan to put one foot in the quarter-finals and having won it fairly recently, aren’t encumbered by City’s burden.
It was so near, yet so far for City when they lost last season’s Champions League final
The quarter-finals, which could see the two drawn together, actually take place either side of the Etihad clash in early April.
It promises to be a season-defining week of crushing pressure even if they avoid one another in the draw. Perversely, if either crash out of Europe, they would probably become title favourites.
But none of this is alien to either club. They’re well accustomed to spinning various plates at this time of year and confronting a new challenge every 3-4 days.
Liverpool laid down their own marker in the Champions League with last week’s win over Inter
A Premier League title race that threatened to become a City procession has now sprung back to life after the weekend’s events.
City need to ensure it’s merely a blip and no doubt it is. It’s Liverpool that will need to be faultless and win every game from here on in, especially the one at the Etihad.
Both clubs boast players and managers who know how to win titles and have the squad depth to juggle various competitions in an intense run-in.
It’s the Champions League factor that will probably prove decisive. Who can progress deep in that competition, overcoming best teams in Europe, while also keeping on course at home?