Saturday, April 20, 2024

Liverpool, Arsenal or Man City? Three-way Premier League title race analysed -Dlight News

Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal are divided by just two points as we approach the business end of the Premier League campaign – but which team is in pole position to take the crown come May?

We take a look at each side’s prospects, including pundit verdicts from Gary Neville and Paul Merson, and have a deep dive into the stats.

LIVERPOOL

Reasons to be confident

Their attacking firepower has propelled them to the top of table and could yet keep them there. They have smashed 12 goals in the last four Premier League games without Mo Salah, a testament to their depth, and the Egyptian is now closing in on a return to fitness.

There is encouragement at the other end of the pitch too, where Virgil van Dijk has returned to something approaching his best level, Alisson remains the Premier League’s undisputed top goalkeeper, and Andrew Robertson is fit again after four months out.

Could the announcement of Jurgen Klopp’s departure at the end of the season further boost their chances? Certainly, the emotion should enhance the atmosphere at Anfield. City still have to go there, remember, having only won one of their seven Premier League visits under Pep Guardiola – and that was without fans during the 2020/21 campaign.

Reasons to be cautious

Klopp has worked wonders with Liverpool’s midfield, restructuring it almost from scratch after the departures of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner and Naby Keita last summer. But they still lack a No 6 to rival Rodri or Declan Rice.

Another injury to Thiago Alcantara limits their options further in that part of the pitch and, despite Van Dijk’s fine form, there remain doubts in defence too, with Joel Matip’s absence leaving them reliant on the excellent but sometimes injury-prone Ibrahima Konate.

They have only conceded 23 goals, the second-fewest after Arsenal, but is the current rate sustainable? The underlying numbers show they give their opponents far better chances than City and Arsenal, with 29.63 expected goals against (xGa) given up so far, compared to City’s 22.14 and Arsenal’s 18.05.

MAN CITY

Reasons to be confident

How long have you got? After 10 consecutive wins in all competitions and six in the Premier League, it feels like Manchester City are clicking into gear once more, ready to blow the competition away in the second half of the season yet again.


Saturday 17th February 5:00pm


Kick off 5:30pm


Guardiola’s players know exactly what it takes to get over the line as they chase an unprecedented fourth consecutive title triumph. They have recovered from far worse situations than the one they found themselves in earlier this season.

Their strength in depth is unrivalled, allowing them to plough on even without players of the calibre of Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland. Now that duo are back, and the injury list is clear, there is a growing feeling of inevitability about what happens next.

Reasons to be cautious

The fact no other side has won four in a row is the main one. Amid stiff competition from Liverpool and Arsenal, and still juggling three competitions, can they maintain the level required for a fourth consecutive season? There is a reason it has never been done before.

The other glimmer of hope for their rivals is that they look more defensively vulnerable than in previous campaigns. Having let in 25 goals in 23 games, they are conceding at their highest rate under Guardiola, even including the 2016/17 campaign, when they finished third.

City have developed a habit of conceding from their opponent’s first shot on target. Their defence will face a stern test when they face Manchester United, Liverpool, Brighton, Arsenal and Aston Villa in consecutive games starting in March.

ARSENAL

Reasons to be confident

Arsenal are regarded as the unlikeliest of the three contenders but titles are usually won by the best defence and the Gunners appear to have that this season. Their expected goals against total of only 18.05 is unrivalled, reflecting their ability to suppress chances.

Arsenal could not find a level of cutting edge to match their defensive prowess in the early months of the season but that appears to be changing. They have rattled in 16 goals in their last four games. Have the floodgates opened?

Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli certainly appear to be reaching top form, while improvement can also be seen in Martin Odegaard, Leandro Trossard and Kai Havertz, with Gabriel Jesus still to come back too. Rice’s impact has been immense and the group appear hungrier and mentally stronger than last season.

Reasons to be cautious

Last season’s capitulation hangs over them. Having surrendered such a healthy lead over City, when it felt like they might never get a better chance, they now have a lot to prove in terms of staying power. These players do not have the same level of trophy-winning experience as their rivals.

For all Arsenal’s recent improvement offensively, there remain serious question marks in the No 9 position too. Jesus gives them many things, but he is not a prolific scorer. Could the lack of that out-and-out striker with a killer touch still cost them?

Unlike Liverpool, who escaped with a draw from their own visit, Arsenal also have to go to the Etihad Stadium, a formidable test at a ground where they have a wretched record. Given the race could be decided by fine margins, defeat there could do severe damage.

Gary Neville: Arsenal have a great chance

“I had Arsenal as Premier League champions at the start of the season when not many did. I do still think Manchester City, at this moment in time, look ominous, but I want Arsenal to do it.

“As much as it would be a fairytale ending for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp and what that would mean to him and the club, for what Arsenal did last season where they crumbled at the end.

“I’d like to see them start the season slowly, be a bit scruffy, pick points up and be in amongst it. But then really hit their form in the final furlong. That’s where you need to hit form.

“Last season their legs went, and their performances went in the last 10 games. We are getting to that point in the next few weeks.

“Arsenal have got a great chance – they’ve got a great team, a great manager, the back four are solid, the midfield are strong and the front players are such a threat.”

“Arsenal are the team that are closest to Man City. Liverpool have a great manager but I feel Arsenal are a better team. There is so much energy and passion at Arsenal, that’s great, but we’re now entering into a run-in. When you think of Floyd Mayweather and Muhammad Ali – boxers who used to call it on with their enthusiasm.

“They were so great they could do it. Arsenal aren’t in that position to be like that. It’s helped them that they’ve not been in front and had no pressure or expectation. They need to sit there, sit there, sit there, and pounce at the end. That’s how they’ll need to win the league. Last season I never thought they’d win the league, this year they can. They have more control. I’m feeling it for them.

“For Arteta to break Klopp and Guardiola would be huge for the Premier League – we want disruption.

“Manchester City have been incredible, Guardiola is a genius and Klopp is the best manager over the last six years having worked against Guardiola with the resources he had. If Arteta could drive through the middle of them it would be monumental. I can’t wait for the next three months. I want them to be controlled. To be determined. And to know there is a long way to go.”

Merse: ‘The schedule could prove crucial in title race’

“We’ve still got a little bit to go before we get to the serious business of the run-in. That all starts with eight games to go in my opinion.

“Then we get to back to the importance of which team plays first on the weekend. It plays a huge part, in my opinion. Arsenal had to win at West Ham just to stay where they are. It takes its toll.

“We saw it a few years ago now with Spurs when they were chasing Leicester. They kept playing second. Talk to Tiger Woods about match play. He wants to put his ball on the green first to build the pressure on his opponent.

“It makes a huge difference.”

What do the stats say?

Sky Sports’ data editor Adam Smith:

Merse’s point about the importance of going first: Liverpool go first on Saturday and, after City play their rescheduled game with Brentford on Tuesday, Klopp’s side kickstart another round of games on Wednesday.

However, City could leapfrog Liverpool by a single point if they capitalise on their game in hand against the Bees on Tuesday – assuming both sides win this weekend. Of course, if either or neither win, Arsenal wait in the wings.

Arsenal and City are now level on goal difference after the Gunners’ impressive 6-0 win at West Ham, while Liverpool lead the pair by just a single goal.

In terms of form, the charts below highlight how Liverpool have been the most consistent – averaging at around 2.2 points per game throughout almost the entire campaign.

City drew three in a row from mid-November before losing 1-0 at Aston Villa. However, Guardiola’s side are on a six-game win streak since Christmas as they look to see out the campaign in customary, dominant form.

Arteta’s side suffered the most recent dip, losing three in five games during the festive period, but have bounced back to perfect levels with four successive wins – with an aggregate scoreline of 16-2.

The chart below reveals Saka’s form is crucial for the Gunners’ chances of pipping City and Liverpool to the post come May. Indeed, the England winger currently sits top of the Sky Sports Power Rankings – in both the season and current form charts.

The graphic below shows each team’s upcoming Premier League fixtures, but which side has the easiest schedule?

The chart below plots those opponents in a table with the brightest red shade indicating the toughest opposition, based on current league position – which, right now, is Liverpool.

City’s average opponent ranks 9.6 in the table, which is significantly tougher than Liverpool (11.2) and Arsenal’s (11.1) average opponent.

However, as the table below clearly shows, both sides need to take advantage of easier opposition in the next seven games before facing trickier challenges in the final seven games – particularly Liverpool.

So, what’s the verdict? Well, City have the toughest league schedule on paper – but their experience at gruelling run-ins could shine through.

Data providers Opta calculate City have a 65 per cent chance of winning an unprecedented, fourth successive league title this season, while Liverpool (25 per cent) and Arsenal (10 per cent) are notably less favoured.

Still unsure which team to back as Premier League champions when the curtain closes on May 19? You can use the interactive chart below to see how the rivals rank across all key metrics this season to help you decide…

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