I just watched Man City and I’m more confident now that Liverpool can still win the league
Manchester City took care of its first game in hand over Liverpool, moving to within two points after beating Brentford. But I was left somewhat unimpressed.
Like more or less every Liverpool fan, I needed a day or two to get some perspective after a hugely disappointing loss to Arsenal. But the reality of the result is that only one team left the Emirates with the power to win the title entirely in its own hands, and it was not Mikel Arteta’s men.
Defeat complicated things for Liverpool, as Jürgen Klopp will now — as things stand — need to engineer a victory over Manchester City when it comes to Anfield next month in order to keep control of his side’s destiny. But the reality is still more or less the same: win every game, and the manager will sign off with the Premier League trophy.
Mainly due to bitter experience, both Liverpool and Manchester City will be working under the assumption that the other will not drop any more points. Nor would Klopp want his players to be banking on favors, when triumph is still in their own hands for the time being. But I couldn’t help myself — I tuned in as Pep Guardiola took his side to Brentford, hoping for a helping hand.
In many ways, it was the same old formula. As ever, it’s the hope that kills you as a Liverpool fan; I allowed myself a degree of excitement as Neal Maupay put Brentford ahead, only for the visitor to ultimately secure a 3-1 win.
But lately, Manchester City seems to be providing this spark of hope more and more often. It continues to win almost out of force of habit, with victory by this point ingrained as the default result, but it is harder than in previous years to truly imagine that it will end the season without a blip.
For the first time in months, Manchester City was able to start Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne together after lengthy injury absences. Maverick that he is, Guardiola left Phil Foden and Julián Álvarez in the mix too, fielding a team with a huge amount of attacking firepower on paper.
But a stubborn Brentford defense was able to repel it with relative ease for the first 45 minutes, with Guardiola’s side primarily reduced to long-range efforts. The mental strain told just before half time, when a botched Ethan Pinnock headed clearance gift-wrapped an equalizer for Foden, but Manchester City was toiling to create anything of real note under its own steam.
Before that, there were chances for Brentford to extend its lead, most notably with a succession of first-half corners that looked really threatening. After the break, things got off to a bad start when Foden put Manchester City ahead, but even having been given something to protect, the notorious lead-holders looked far from infallible.
Only a crucial block from Rúben Dias prevented Brentford from finding a leveler, and that was one of multiple last-ditch interventions. Naturally, Manchester City had more of the ball and continued to carry a threat of its own, but it looked wide open to relatively simple counter-attacks, only really settling things when Foden bagged his third.
When Liverpool welcomes Manchester City to Anfield next month, Darwin Núñez will fancy his chances of having a field day. There is space galore to gallop into, a trap Brentford was able to spring time and time again, and as long as Virgil van Dijk and Alisson can avoid any more calamities, it’s far from inevitable that Guardiola will be able to map a straightforward route to goal.
I am no more immune to the fear of Manchester City’s robotic run-ins than any other Liverpool fan. It’s natural to be nervous now that it is stringing a few wins together. But a glance at the fixture list is telling.
In the last five league games, Manchester City has beaten Brentford, Burnley, Sheffield United and Everton by often somewhat flattering two-goal margins, as well as edging past an out-of-form Newcastle side. Before that came the draw with Crystal Palace. You can only beat what’s in front of you, but the schedule has been extremely kind, and it would have been a major upset if Guardiola had come across any banana skins amid that run.
That really takes a turn in March, when Manchester City will have to face Manchester United, Liverpool, Brighton, Arsenal and Aston Villa in immediate succession. I could be left looking silly, with Guardiola’s side more than capable of cruising to a 15-point maximum from those games, but after watching the Brentford win, I think there are plenty more twists and turns to come this season.