What will be in Liverpool's bottle when the Premier League title is decided?
Background photo: Lovely LeftvFoot, CC BY 2.0
A week into April, the race for the Premier League title enters the final stretch. For neutrals, it's interesting. For Liverpool fans, the word is worrisome. The Reds hold a two-point advantage over Manchester City after playing one more game than the defending champions. Each club won its last four games. It's a mutated combination of tennis and chicken. Every round, one side edges in front, exerting pressure on the other to respond. Who will blink first? Swerve to avoid the head-on collision? Drop points? Merseysiders know history says it will be them. They've bottled chances to win their 20th top flight crown more than once. This time, they want to bottle and sell a title-winning formula.
With a nearly 20-point lead over the other four clubs in the top six, every game is winnable for both. They've already played each other. The Anfield leg ended goalless. City won 2-1 at the Etihad. Liverpool host Chelsea this coming Sunday. Six days later, City welcome Tottenham to the Etihad. On the 24th, they go to Old Trafford. On the final matchday, the Reds face a tester against Wolves at Anfield while the Sky Blues head to the AmEx to battle bottom-half club Brighton.
Pep Guardiola must negotiate a more difficult run-in than Jurgen Klopp. Tottenham at least is at home. The Spaniard doesn't know what he will get from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, though. The Norwegian was hired by Manchester United in response to Jose Mourinho's failure against Liverpool. City represent his first opportunity to prove his mettle in a derby. First, the Reds must overcome history. Chelsea battle for a Champions League spot. Blues' fans would love nothing better than ending the Merseysiders title hopes for the second time running. Steven Gerrard's slip in 2014 came at Stamford Bridge where Demba Ba took full advantage.
Critics will shout that Liverpool bottled it if they fail to secure their first Premier League title. It's been 29 years since they last won in the old First Division. Unless the club improves on its runners-up status in last year's Champions League, thereby securing Klopp's first trophy at the club despite losing out to City, the press and social media will be merciless. Forget vultures. Think locusts. They'll attempt to leave a desert where Anfield once stood. That said, it's ridiculous to label a squad as bottlers that are 25 points beyond the pace it set a year ago. In addition, Liverpool is built for the long-term. There will be more opportunities. Public opinion doesn't matter. Liverpool should be proud of the season they've produced in 2018/19.
That said, the race is still on. Manchester City can slip up. Liverpool can win. It will take hard work, discipline, steely determination and more than a bit of good fortune. That recipe is no different than any other champion requires. Ask Pep Guardiola. He'll tell you how lucky City were in 2017/18. The stars aligned. Everything came together perfectly. Other than Benjamin Mendy, there were no significant injuries. They were excellent but everything also broke their way. Will it do so again? Or is it a red-letter year?