Assessing Manchester City and Liverpool's run-ins

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NINE GAMES TO GO

It’s now advantage Manchester City in the Premier League title race, as Liverpool dropped points for the fourth time in their last six Premier League games at Goodison Park.

The tension and nervousness amongst a number of Liverpool’s players was palpable as they were held to a 0-0 draw at Goodison Park, with Mohamed Salah missing two big chances for the Reds in the game.

They have now failed to score in two of their last three games in the Premier League, drawing four of their last six and their form away from Anfield is particularly worrying, winning just one of their five league games on the road in 2019. Included in that was a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, with Pep Guardiola’s team looking in relentless form.

The reigning Premier League champions have won each of their last eight matches in all competitions, winning 16 of their last 17 in all and have the experience of leading from the front from last season’s title-winning campaign.

That experience could prove to be vital as we head into the final nine games of the Premier League season, with Liverpool struggling in recent weeks after being chased rather than the chasers.

Still, there is just one point between the two sides heading into now and the end of May and still plenty of football to be played, with it anticipated that the lead will change hands on multiple occasions, as has already been the case.

But who has the tougher run-in? With nine games left, we assess the route both sides must take in their pursuit of the Premier League title.

Jordan Henderson Liverpool

CITY LOOK TO GO BACK-TO-BACK

Like Liverpool, it could be argued that City haven’t been at their fluent best in recent weeks. Despite that, they have been consistently winning games, getting results in matches whereas Liverpool have been dropping points.

In their last four matches, they have won by a narrow one-goal margin in three of them and on penalties in the other, winning the Carabao Cup against Chelsea after a 0-0 draw in the first 120 minutes of action.

Their last two Premier League wins have come against West Ham United and Bournemouth, both of which have been via a 1-0 scoreline, with Sergio Aguero and Riyad Mahrez respectively scoring the winning goals.

While Liverpool have been unable to break the deadlock in two of their last three Premier League games, City have found a way to get hold of the points, showing the experience of getting over the line in previous title races. The knowhow gained from winning the title on three occasions since 2012 should serve them well in the final two months of the season.

Guardiola will be expecting his team to win their next four straight games in the Premier League, with the team facing Watford (H), Fulham (A), Cardiff (H) and Crystal Palace (A), all of which are particularly winnable games for the champions.

Sandwiched in between the Watford and Fulham games are Champions League and FA Cup contests against Schalke and Swansea respectively, games where again you would anticipate them to win even if they elect to make changes.

Their cup commitments could catch up on them eventually, with the team currently still on to win a historic quadruple this season, though they have been handed relatively nice draws throughout their cup competitions. In the FA Cup, they have faced Rotherham, Burnley and Newport, while they defeated Oxford, Fulham, Leicester and Burton in the League Cup before the final.

Those won’t have been the most strenuous games for the team, who are expected to make the Champions League quarter-finals after taking an early 3-2 lead against Schalke in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie.

The biggest test for City will be after their next four Premier League games when they are dealt with two huge back-to-back fixtures. First, they welcome Tottenham Hotspur to the Etihad Stadium before then travelling to Manchester United the following weekend.

Wins in both of those games would put the team in a tremendous position heading into the final three matches of the campaign, though they run into two sides that will likely be competing for a place in the Champions League at that point. That will likely be the defining week of their Premier League season and will have a huge say on where the title ends up, with it still in City’s hands to win the title.

Bernardo Silva David Silva Sergio Aguero

LIVERPOOL BACK CHASING

Draws in four of Liverpool’s last six games now leaves them a point off the top of the table, relinquishing their spot as league leaders with nine matches left to play.

On becoming the chasers, Jurgen Klopp said: "Who wants to be top of the table at the beginning of March? It is nice but there are lots of games to play.

"I'm completely fine with chasing. I watched Match of the Day last night and saw the celebrations of Manchester City - they had 900 chances and scored one goal, a shot with the wrong foot.

"You have to be ready for these chances."

Liverpool were performing better as the chasers earlier on in the season and will hope to rediscover that form sooner rather than later, having looked toothless in attack in each of their last two away games.

Such is the improvement that Liverpool have undertaken in Klopp’s time as manager that they are disappointed in games where they have kept clean sheets against Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Everton in recent weeks. There is no doubt that they are the best defensive team in the Premier League, with Virgil van Dijk being the league’s best defender.

But they are no longer clinging onto first place - now they must go and win it back and will need to be more ruthless going forward.

Liverpool face two must-win games in each of their next Premier League outings, taking on Burnley at Anfield next Sunday before then travelling to Craven Cottage to face Fulham. They also take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League in between those two games, with the international break taking place after the Fulham clash.

It is then when they will face perhaps their biggest test between now and the end of the season, with Tottenham Hotspur arriving to Anfield in their first game back, with Chelsea also travelling to Merseyside two weeks later.

Like City’s back-to-back games against Spurs and United, these are Liverpool’s two defining matches and ones they now have no choice but to win after letting their lead slip. Liverpool’s season closes with four games against Cardiff, Huddersfield, Newcastle and Wolves.

From having the chance to go 10 points clear, the Reds are now looking to come from behind themselves.

It will be fascinating to see how both teams react to the changing of the guard in the coming weeks in what should be one of the most exciting Premier League title races in some time.

Virgil van Dijk Liverpool
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