The title race is very much on as Manchester City squeeze past Everton
When you look back to the turn of the year, the Premier League title looked like a foregone conclusion. Manchester City, having won the title with very little serious competition last season, looked on course to win a fourth in five years, and although it’s now mathematically impossible for their current side to match the swashbuckling centurions established by Pep Guardiola a few years ago, they managed to shake off a lukewarm start to the season and pull away from the pack over a congested festive period in which they were flawless.
As good as City were, the sides around them were victims of their own demise. Chelsea had looked like frontrunners in the odds to win the Premier League, with Romelu Lukaku scoring for fun on his return to England, but their capitulation culminated by Christmas, dropping crucial points and leaving themselves with too much to do. It’s looking more and more likely that Liverpool are the only real contenders for the throne, but City continued their time at the top with a late win at Goodison Park.
Everyone had expected City to walk all over Everton in their latest encounter. Former City player Frank Lampard had made an encouraging start to life on Merseyside but the Toffees had anticipated being reduced to rubble amid a blitz of unwavering City attack. In recent times they had developed a reputation of slaughtering whoever was next in their path after dropping points, and with a loss to Tottenham Hotspur closing the gap to three points, you’d think Guardiola would again smell blood.
Everton have been a figure of inconsistency under Lampard but they gave a good account of themselves on this occasion. In a match defined by key moments late on, Michael Keane’s poor clearance gifted Phil Foden the winner in a cagey affair — 1-0 in the 82nd minute. Then, a controversial VAR decision overshadowed a strong performance for Lampard and co. An ariel ball looked, quite clearly, to have hit Rodri’s hand, but despite plenty of pressure from a boisterous Goodison crowd, and a check by Chris Kavanagh, the decision was waved away, leading to Everton filing a formal complaint.
It was another stroke of good fortune for City — the only dampener on the weekend is knowing Liverpool are still in hot pursuit, and the Reds, while not playing in the Premier League, were still in action with more confidence injected after beating Chelsea on penalties in the League Cup final.
Victory at Wembley will only serve as a catalyst for Liverpool, amid talks of a quadruple this is a side with an appetite for silverware, and one trophy will scarcely quench their thirst as they bid to make up for lost time following an injury-laden campaign in 2020-21. Indeed, you only have to look at social media to see Liverpool’s players have indicated they believe this is possible — business as usual, one down three to go — a discourse that is a clear statement of intent.
This is a Liverpool side with the perfect blend of proficiency and potential, a concoction that makes them a real threat for years to come. Despite Jürgen Klopp’s deal at Anfield expiring in a couple of years, the likes of Harvey Elliott and Ibrahima Konaté, aligned with more established players some way off their prime — Trent Alexander-Arnold, Luis Díaz, et al — ensures the Reds have a side of serial winners that are developing every year. With last season certainly an almighty blemish on their near spotless record, a push for the title alongside their European pursuit is still objectively achievable, albeit with plenty of football to play between now and the end of the season.
Indeed, it sets up a blockbuster of a spectacle at the Etihad in early April. That is, of course, if City can sustain their winning run, and Liverpool, as chasers, continue to relish their role and capitalise on any potential slip ups. As far as Klopp is concerned, the title is still up for grabs but judging by Guardiola’s good fortune in terms of officiating decisions and individual errors that have led to City goals, the pendulum of Premier League predictions this weekend still swings in favour of the current champions. Only time will tell how things pan out.