Title races in the Premier League are renowned for being tightly fought and culminating in heartbreak for the runners-up. From a numerical perspective, this season is guaranteed to end in tears for either Manchester City or Liverpool fans.
Following his side’s victory in the Manchester derby, Pep Guardiola acknowledged the brilliance of his rivals, stating that Manchester City and Liverpool deserve to win the title “as one”.
The Reds are projected to finish in second-place with 97 points, which would arguably make it the cruelest title race to date. More so, perhaps, than the heart-breaking finale to the famous 2011/12 campaign.
The Title Race Has Never Been So Cruel
On 89 points with three games left to play, Pep Guardiola’s men would, on 18 previous occasions, have already won the Premier League by now. Meanwhile, Liverpool have 88, a feat that fourteen Champions have failed to reach in times gone by.
Liverpool can realistically rack up 97 points by winning their remaining fixtures against Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Amazingly, that might only get them second place.
If this is the case, they will be the first side ever to finish in second with 90 points or more. By extension, it would mark the highest ever combined points total for the top two Premier League teams.
In 2017, Chelsea and Tottenham collectively accumulated 179. A year on, the points total of record-breaking centenarians Manchester City and neighbours Manchester United combine to make 181. This year, it could be 195.
This is the stage that the Premier League is at. Two or three-horse races have been commonplace for decades, but they have never reached this numerical extreme.
The closest would be the Manchester rivals both achieving 89 points in 2012. This year, though, one would expect both of this year’s title candidates to well exceed the 90 mark and set a new Premier League record.
To put things in perspective, no title-winning side could even manage 80 points between 1997 and 1999. As the tyranny of the ‘top six’ has emerged, if a club is gunning for the title then they have to climb above the rest in emphatic fashion.
Anomalistically, when the giants had an off-year, Leicester City capitalised in style. Even so, they only managed 81 points – the sixth lowest number in Premier League history.
The big guns have since responded, but it has been more extreme than anyone could have possibly imagined.
Undeserved Yet Inevitable Disappointment
In truth, neither Liverpool or Manchester City deserve to come second best for their sparkling performances this season. They have played their part brilliantly in what has been a tantalising and extraordinary title race, going toe-to-toe all the way and refusing to choke under the suffocating pressure.
Most recently, Manchester City masterfully overcame two potential banana-skins. With the pressure on, they beat and kept clean sheets against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in close succession.
Despite Guardiola conceding that in a just world both sides would share the Premier League trophy, there can only be one winner.
Liverpool have already accumulated 88 points and lost just once all season, yet clinching the title is still not in their hands. Unfortunately for them, Jurgen Klopp’s exciting project has coincided with Manchester City reaching the peak of their powers.
Duncan Alexander immaculately refers to this year’s title race as ‘An Incalculable Tragedy’. ‘Tragedy’ is an apposite description, as for one side their sweat, toil and brilliance will inevitably be in vain. The psychological impact on both the players and fans, moreover, could be substantial going forward.
The Cruelest Ever?
Though the manner of Sergio Aguero‘s title-clinching goal against Queens Park Rangers was heart-breaking for Manchester United fans, holistically speaking there will be more cruelty inflicted on the runner-up this year round.
Predominantly, this is because Liverpool have barely put a foot wrong whilst sustaining a phenomenal Champions League run. Manchester United, whereas, had a complete meltdown and blew an eight-point lead with six games remaining in 2012.
Two years prior was also a hard pill to swallow for their fans, as they lost out to Chelsea by just one point. Having said that, they lost seven games across that campaign and lost 6-1 to title rivals Manchester City. Like their five defeats in the 2011/12 season, it is no longer the form required to win titles.
Like Steven Gerrard’s slip in 2014, Sergio Aguero’s late winner induced plenty of empathy from a neutral perspective. It is easy to focus on those individual moments but, in reality, Liverpool or Manchester United failed to demonstrate the ruthlessness and composure of true champions.
Ultimately, their respective collapses make losing out on the title seem less cruel in light of this year’s tantalisingly high-scoring title race.
In reality, no side deserves to miss out. As already alluded to, their consistency while under immense pressure has been outstanding across this marathon of a Premier League season. By extension, in the majority of seasons gone by, both sides would have already been crowned champions by now.
It will be a fascinating climax to this year’s title and nobody can predict the outcome. The one certainty, however, is that it is destined to end in heartbreak.