By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Having absorbed everything Liverpool could throw at them in a titanic title battle, Manchester City will retain their crown with victory at Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.
It is possible they could get by with a draw, or even an unlikely defeat, as they will start their final game one point ahead — but Pep Guardiola’s side know better than to expect gifts from Merseyside.
In all likelihood City will rack up a 14th successive Premier League win and Liverpool will beat Wolverhampton Wanderers to make it nine in a row and City will take the honours with 98 points to Liverpool’s 97.
To put that into perspective those totals would be the second and third highest in the history of the Premier League — behind only City’s record-breaking 100-point haul last season when Guardiola delivered his first title.
If there was ever a case to share the trophy it is this season, such has been the excellence of both clubs.
Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool finished 25 points behind City last year, but rose to the challenge and have bridged that gap playing football that at times has surpassed even the dazzling standards of Guardiola’s side.
Liverpool have lost just once to City’s four defeats and were briefly seven points in front in January, but in the run-in they have found that as well as the style that is Guardiola’s blueprint, his team also have core of steel.
That manifested itself perfectly on Monday when, with Leicester City holding out at the Etihad Stadium, captain marvel Vincent Kompany thumped home a 30-metre screamer to send his side into the final day with their fate in their hands.
It was their third 1-0 victory in four games and, say what you like about Liverpool’s armour-plated defence, City have conceded only three times in their last 13 games as they relentlessly went about becoming the first club to retain the Premier League title since Manchester United 10 years ago.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson admitted his side need a “miracle” to win the title now, but in a week in which they performed one to beat Barcelona 4-0, overhauling a three-goal deficit to reach the Champions League final, it would be folly to dismiss the notion of him raising the trophy aloft to end Liverpool’s 29-year wait since they last reigned supreme.
“City are a great team, but so are we. We’ve competed right to the very end,” Henderson said.
“Whoever gets it will deserve it. From our point of view, we couldn’t have done any more.”
It is only the eighth time in the Premier League era that the title has been decided on the final day.
Unusually it is the only issue realistically at stake.
Huddersfield Town, Fulham and Cardiff City have already been relegated while Chelsea are certain of a top-four finish and Tottenham Hotspur can only be denied by an improbable scenario in which they lose to Everton at home and Arsenal win at Burnley and also bridge an eight-goal inferior goal difference.
Even the “best of the rest” issue is decided with Wolves guaranteed seventh spot in their first season back in the top flight.
So there will be no distractions as Europe’s most absorbing title race in years plays out its final acts simultaneously on the south coast and Merseyside.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)