Manchester City once again find themselves in a title race and with familiar opposition too, having faced off against challengers Liverpool previously in 2014, 2019 and 2020.
The Citizens came out on top on the first couple of occasions, including a dramatic victory in 2019 that saw them finish just one point ahead of Liverpool after a tense final day, but succumbed to second place in 2020 when Liverpool comfortably won their first ever Premier League title.
After reclaiming their crown last season in emphatic fashion, City are again aiming to defend it on the final day, but face strong resistance from Jurgen Klopp’s side who have already won the Carabao Cup and FA Cup this season.
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Similar to the brilliant and intense title race of 2018/19, City find themselves a point in front of Liverpool with just one game remaining. City’s 2-2 draw with West Ham in midweek, coupled with Liverpool’s win over Southampton, means there is just a whisker between the sides again.
The back and forth nature of City and Liverpool’s Premier League positions this season highlights how truly close this season has become and how there is no room for error as any slip now would allow Klopp’s men to pounce. City find themselves ahead but not by chance, having played some great football this year but they equally have faced adversity in matches this season whereby the Citizens could have easily dropped points.
In such scenarios, more often than not, the Sky Blues’ grit and determination prevailed with key involvements which helped City to be where they find themselves now — in pole position. Here are the five defining moments of this campaign which sent City to the summit of the Premier League.
Rodri’s goal-saving block vs challengers Liverpool (October)
Spanish center defensive midfielder Rodri is arguably enjoying his best ever season for the club with the player often dominating matches this season. His tough tackling coupled with pinpoint passing has helped control the pitch’s engine room regularly.
Yet one of his biggest contributions this season came inside his own box as City faced title challengers Liverpool at Anfield last October. With the tense game locked at 2-2, Liverpool attacked in the final minutes and with Ederson off the goal line, Fabinho had an empty net to aim at.
Rodri slid in rapidly to block the almost certain goal that was to occur, preventing what would have been an undeserved loss in Merseyside against City’s main competitors for the title.
Ake’s goal line clearance vs spirited Arsenal (January)
Whereas most would look to goals as the main moments of where a title can be won or lost, it is always worth acknowledging the prevention of goals, especially in dramatic situations when judging why a team is top of the table.
In 2018/19, a goal line clearance by City’s very own John Stones against challengers Liverpool helped secure a priceless victory against the Reds and sent City on their way to the title.
Similarly in this campaign, Nathan Ake showed his pace to slide in acrobatically and save City’s blushes against Arsenal. During the New Year’s Day clash at the Emirates Stadium, City found themselves drawing 1-1 to an Arsenal side who were bringing the game to the Sky Blues.
Already at risk of dropping two points, City were on the verge of losing all three when a misjudged Aymeric Laporte header was headed goal bound with no keeper to prevent it. Cometh the moment, cometh the man as Ake managed to reach the ball with milliseconds to spare, clearing it away in what was to eventually be an invaluable victory for City.
Last-gasp Rodri winner on New Year’s Day (January)
In the same match as Ake’s acrobatic heroics, City went onto in the game, very late on. The 10 men of Arsenal had battled hard and seemed to be celebrating the turn of the new year by taking a point off of the reigning Premier League champions.
Yet just like at Anfield, Rodri had different ideas. With seconds to go, Rodri kept his composure in the unfamiliar territory of the opposition’s box and fired City ahead from close range, sparking an Emmanuel Adebayor-esque celebration in front of the London faithful.
This match again demonstrates just how key winning on New Year’s Day was to City who could easily have found themselves behind Liverpool should they have not rallied as hard in the Emirates.
De Bruyne strike to obliterate Chelsea title chances (January)
At the start of the season it seemed as though the title race could be a four-way battle between City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United. However, after a run of poor form saw United drop out early, it began to shape itself as a three-horse race.
Following some poor form in late 2021 for Chelsea, including several draws, the Blues arrived at the Etihad in January knowing that a loss would see them all but out of the title race altogether.
This would be a tough ask for City to win who of course had lost to Chelsea on three occasions last season, including in the Champions League final. The need to remove another team and the Citizens seized their opportunity with a long range Kevin De Bruyne strike to win 1-0.
Against his former club, De Bruyne notched for the fifth time in five seasons late in the second half, just as nerves had started to show at the Etihad. Chelsea were never in the title race again.
Foden’s late winner vs determined Everton (February)
In one of City’s tougher games this season, the Citizens faced a dogged Everton side at Goodison Park who wouldn’t budge an inch. Despite City’s attempts, the score reminded 0-0 deep into the second half, worrying the traveling Sky Blue faithful.
When a breakthrough started to seem both unlikely and not possible, Stockport-born Phil Foden stepped up to Fire City into the lead from close range, beating his England international teammate Jordan Pickford.
City hung onto the slender lead despite late Everton bombardments, ensuring they returned to Manchester with all three valuable points. Instances like these, where the team has had to grind out a single goal result in a tough stadium, are exactly what wins titles. City will certainly take a repeat of that against Villa today.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.