When the dust had settled on the 2018/19 Premier League season, the margin of victory that Manchester City enjoyed – just one point over Liverpool – ensured that this was one of the closest title races in the history of the English top-flight.
Such fine margins can be easily overcome where the champion’s standards fall or the challenger finds an exponential gain from somewhere, and as we head towards the festive period it’s clear that both of those things have happened to the Premier League’s main protagonists.
Manchester City are struggling defensively. Knee surgery will keep key man Aymeric Laporte out for the foreseeable future, while an injury to John Stones has left midfielder Fernandinho filling the void in the centre of defence for the first time in his career at the age of 34. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but how costly could the decision to release Vincent Kompany prove to be?
It’s a weakness that has been exposed at times, particularly by Everton for a 15-minute period in the first half of their encounter where the champions were all at sea.
As for Liverpool, they are improving without even bringing in any new faces. Roberto Firmino is playing some of the best football of his career, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah are maintaining their high standards and young guns like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson continue to mature and grow as footballers.
When Alisson returns from injury, Liverpool will be at their absolute peak.
And so the latest outright winner Premier League betting odds make for interesting reading, with Manchester City posted as a narrow odds-on favourite by the bookmakers and Liverpool a few points behind.
But based on what we have seen so far, are those odds accurate? Or should Liverpool be considered the favourites to claim a first-ever Premier League title?
Here are three arguments to consider:
The Case for Liverpool – City Can’t Defend
It’s true that you can win football matches even when you are conceding goals – you simply have to outscore your opposition.
And let’s face it: Manchester City are not short of goals in a squad resembling a football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters.
But fine margins, as already noted, could be the difference. And there’s the possibility that City will drop points if they cannot keep clean sheets along the way – evidenced by defeat against Norwich and that unfortunate defeat to Tottenham.
It’s not just in the centre of defence where the problems lie. Kyle Walker has lost that yard of pace that made him such a formidable right back, while Oleksandr Zinchenko simply isn’t a top-level left back – the injuries to Benjamin Mendy and Joao Cancelo are an ongoing worry.
The Case for City – Liverpool Rely on the Few, Not the Many
Imagine a scenario where Mo Salah or Virgil van Dijk pick up a season-ending injury.
That would surely prove catastrophic for Liverpool’s title chances, and just goes to show how fragile their grip on the race for the Premier League trophy is.
Take out Salah, and in comes Divock Origi or Xherdan Shaqiri. Neither are what we could an elite-level attacker, and suddenly the Reds are losing goals and assists in the absence of the Egyptian.
Remove van Dijk from the starting eleven, and in comes Joe Gomez or Dejan Lovren. Neither possesses the poise or the authority of the peerless Dutchman.
It’s a hypothetical situation, of course, but it’s on such rocky ground that Liverpool’s title bid walks.
The Case for City – Been There, Done It
There is a stigma attached to Liverpool and their pursuit of a first-ever Premier League title.
For one of the biggest clubs in the world, it’s is downright bizarre that you have to go back three decades to see the last time that they won their domestic league title.
There has been near misses, of course, including last season and the infamous Steven Gerrard slip of 2013/14 that cost them the silverware.
That has become a psychological block, and that’s why Manchester City – who have been there, done it and got the trophies to prove it – are arguably the safer bet.
So there you have it: we can make a case, just, for Manchester City to retain their Premier League title; but it should be another hard-fought and exciting journey ahead.