After initially appearing to be done and dusted by Christmas, it now seems as though there may be a Premier League title race after all.
Manchester City have hardly put a foot wrong since the start of the season, dropping points in just three games since the end of October, but Liverpool are right up behind them.
After a difficult winter, Jurgen Klopp’s side have dragged themselves to within one point of the defending champions with a run of 10 consecutive league wins.
Both have their destiny in their own hands. Both have eight games remaining too, including Sunday’s crucial meeting at the Etihad.
If there’s a winner, they will likely be the favorites going forward. But even then, there will still be a lot of football left to play and a lot of matches that could decide the race.
By calculating the home and away points-per-game of each club’s remaining opponents, The Independent has analyzed City and Liverpool’s run-ins to assess where the title could be won and lost beyond this weekend.
Opponents’ average points per game: 1.35
Run in difficulty: ★★½
One of the first things you will notice about City’s run-in is that – other than Liverpool – there are no meetings with their fellow members of the so-called “big six”. All those are out of the way now, with 19 points taken from a possible 27 in those encounters.
Instead, Pep Guardiola’s side are left to face several sides embroiled in a relegation scrap at the wrong end of the table, a run that started with the trip to Burnley after the international break.
Brighton and Watford visit the Etihad to complete a run of three consecutive home games, which is followed by a trip to Elland Road.
City thrashed Leeds 7-0 in the reverse fixture before Christmas, though were held on the same ground last season and could face a sterner test against the newly-appointed Jesse Marsch, who has brought greater structure to the frenetic pressing.
The defending champions would probably still be confident of taking all three points at Leeds, though, just as they would against an improved Newcastle at the Etihad. A trip to Molineux is not as intimidating as it first appears when you consider that Wolves have looked better on the road.
The visit to the London Stadium to play West Ham could be a tougher test and is another fixture that City dropped points in last season, though the prospect of David Moyes’ side rotating before a Europa League final a few days later may yet turn out to be part of the equation.
The final day visit from Aston Villa has the greatest potential for a narrative-heavy climax. Could Steven Gerrard deliver the title to his former club with a shock win at the Etihad?
Given that City’s schedule looks relatively straightforward, Liverpool could do with a favour. If Guardiola comes out on top on 10 April, it will be hard to see where his players drop points to let Klopp back in.
Opponents’ average points per game: 1.47
Run in difficulty: ★★★★
Whichever way you want to cut it, Liverpool’s run-in is more difficult than City’s.
That is partly because Sunday’s all important top-of-the-table clash is not at Anfield but at the Etihad, which is just about the last place you want to go during a run-in. Only one team has a better home record than City’s 2.43 points per game this season. The good news? That team is Liverpool.
Klopp’s players boast the only remaining unbeaten home record in the Premier League and will be confident that their remaining fixtures at Anfield can be navigated comfortably.
Back-to-back visits from Manchester United and Everton immediately stand out but may be two of the easier engagements down the stretch.
The neighbors from across Stanley Park have a particularly dreadful record on the road this season, losing 11 of 15 and picking up just 0.4 points per game. You could say that Everton at home is officially the “easiest” fixture possible, based on this season’s results.
Away from home, there are no gimmies for Liverpool even once the trip to the Etihad is out of the way. Newcastle and Aston Villa have both improved under new management. St James’ and Villa Park will be tougher places to go than they were at the start of the season.
Southampton are in the top half of the home table and can boast the top flight’s fifth-best defensive record after a decent season at St Mary’s.
A visit from Tottenham in May could be quite a test. Spurs’ season-long record may be mediocre but their 1.7 away points per game under Antonio Conte is much more respectable and includes that shock win at the Etihad, which opened up this title race.
Wolves, meanwhile, have the best away record of any team outside the top three and are penciled in for a final day visit.
Bruno Lage’s side also still have to travel to Stamford Bridge and, given some ordinary underlying numbers, it is worth taking their impressive results on the road with a pinch of salt. Even so, it is not an ideal fixture to end a testing run.