The toing and froing at the top of the Premier League table between Manchester City and Liverpool in recent weeks is something we haven’t seen at this stage of the season for several years. Manchester City and Chelsea respectively won the league at a canter in the previous two seasons, and indeed Leicester City’s title victory the season before that, whilst certainly unexpected, was no less decisive, with the Foxes remaining in first place from the 16th January onwards and ultimately winning the league by a 10 point margin. The last title race which was this close in April was during the 2013-14 season, when the same two clubs would finish in the top two positions, with Manchester City sealing the title on the final day.
The enduring image from that title race is not however anything Manchester City did to win the league, but rather Steven Gerrard’s costly slip against Chelsea, followed up by his side throwing away a 3 goal lead with 11 minutes to go away against Crystal Palace. The idea that Liverpool threw away the title is harsh, and also does an injustice to that Manchester City side whose achievements have been rather overlooked in comparison to their other two Premier League successes, though at the same time, both clubs lost 6 games during the season, highlighting that both clubs gave their rivals an opportunity to seize the initiative by dropping points.
By contrast, the regular changes at the top of the table in recent weeks have by and large been a reflection of the quirk of the fixture schedule rather than either side dropping points regularly. City are currently on a staggering run of form, with a winning streak of 8 games and having won 12 of their past 13 games. Liverpool haven’t quite been able to match that form, winning 8 and drawing 4 of their past 12 games, yet have still only lost once all season and did win 9 in a row themselves prior to that solitary lost against their title rivals. Whilst there is still enough time for a loss of form to prove decisive in the title race, such has been the excellence of both sides that the runners up this season are likely to set multiple records in terms of being the best side never to win the Premier League.
The consistency of both clubs perhaps best illustrated through comparison with the chasing pack. Manchester United are currently 6th, though still very much in contention to finish 3rd. Their current win percentage is 56% so whilst they have won the majority of their games, dropping points has been a regular occurence throughout the course of the season. By contrast, Liverpool’s win percentage works out as better than 3 wins every 4 games, whilst Manchester City’s is better than 4 wins every 5 games.
Winning so regularly naturally has an impact on the Plus Minus ratings too. The Manchester United Plus Minus ratings are currently led by Paul Pogba, who has a rating of +20 and a rating per 90 minutes of 0.67. Pogba has enjoyed a similar amount of playing time to Roberto Firmino and Bernardo Silva in the league, yet Firmino has a rating of +46 and Bernardo a rating of +48. Averaged out over 90 minutes, Bernardo is a full goal per 90 minutes ahead of Pogba on 1.68, whilst Firmino is not far behind on 1.60.
Both Firmino and Bernardo are amongst the top performers this season at their respective clubs, yet with the exception of Liverpool’s Rafael Camacho (who has only played 3 minutes in the league all season), every single player at both clubs has a better rating per 90 minutes than Pogba. Indeed, every one of them has a rating better than 1.00 per 90 minutes, with Joe Gomez being the next lowest on 1.03, whilst Danilo has City’s lowest rating with 1.25. Therefore when assessing both squads, you cannot really talk about ‘weak links’. Whilst both squads have players who are more valuable than others, opposition teams have not been able to exploit any supposed weaknesses enough to the point of causing either team to regularly drop points.
With the title race still to be decided, the narrative of this season has still yet to be written. However, regardless of what happens over the final few weeks of the season, one hopes that the defining narrative surrounds the excellence of the champions, rather than an unjustified suggestion that the runners up threw the title away.
Fantasy Premier League Tip – Bernardo (Brighton)
Brighton and Cardiff are the two sides with a double game week, with Cardiff facing Burnley at Turf Moor, whilst Brighton host Bournemouth as well as Cardiff. Chris Hughton’s side will be hoping to use these two fixtures to secure their top flight status for next season, and with the marginally more favourable fixtures, it is their squad I would look to for anyone trying to take advantage of the double game week. Only Newcastle and Crystal Palace have a better defensive record than Brighton amongst the clubs in the bottom half of the table, and from their likely back four, Bernardo is the cheapest option at £4.2 million, and though unlikely to contribute any attacking points, if Brighton can keep at least one clean sheet then that would be a good return for such a cheap player.