Sport

Do we have a title race on again?

Maybe. It will be a two-horse race once again, but it’s a far cry from where we were two weeks ago. Chelsea are out of this now; there’s no way they can overturn a 13 point gap to Manchester City. I think it’s unlikely that they will overturn the seven-point gap between themselves and Liverpool. And that is something Chelsea will need to examine carefully and decide how they are going to change that. At the moment, Chelsea are a great cup side. Knockout football seems to bring the best out of both Thomas Tuchel and his squad. Since he took over in January of last year, Chelsea have won three trophies and reached five finals. But all of them have been knockout tournaments. They started the season off looking like genuine title contenders, but an inconsistent winter has thrown that idea to the side. For that reason, Liverpool are once again the most likely challengers for City’s crown this season.

Given how much of Chelsea’s season has been devoted to other competitions like the recent Club World Cup victory after next weekend, Chelsea will have two games in hand over City and one over Liverpool. Liverpool, despite playing Leeds this coming Wednesday, will still have a game in hand over City because of their participation in the League Cup final, where Chelsea will gain their second game in hand. In fact, Chelsea don’t play another league game until the 5th March. However, given how far behind they are already, I just don’t think that they are in any position to think about a late drive for the title. The focus for Thomas Tuchel and his side will now be to go as far as they can in the remaining cup competitions and secure a top-four finish to ensure Champions League football for next season. The reports are also saying that the Chelsea board are impressed and pleased with the fact that Tuchel did not push for signings in the January transfer window, in discussions with them or in the press. Because of that, the club are looking at what steps they need to take in the summer to turn themselves back into title challengers.

Liverpool are far more consistent than they were last season. Their hangover from winning the title was long and hard, so much so it didn’t look like they were going to qualify for the Champions League. They did in the end, but they for a long time looked rather out of sorts. This season has been different. While they obviously haven’t been able to match City step for step, they have been far more consistent than any other challenger. And with the addition of Luis Diaz to their attacking options, they have yet more strings to their bows. Their defence can still be a little shaky at times, if Virgil Van Djik isn’t there to marshal things. If City do start to falter more though, Liverpool will be in the best position to nab the title away from the Citizens and take it back to Anfield. While they did go behind at the weekend against Norwich, the sheer quality of their attack was able to overcome the Norfolk side who are surely heading for the Premier League exit once again.

While City’s defeat to Spurs at the weekend was a surprise, I don’t think it will have an enormous impact on the title race. Yes, the gap to Liverpool has shrunk, but Guardiola and City have won three league titles together. They know how to see a title challenge through. While the title race may run for just a little longer than we all expected, I don’t see the destination changing at this stage. What will be remarkable about this campaign for City, if they do go to claim the title, is that they will have done so without a properly recognized striker leading the line for them. They tried to make a move for Harry Kane last summer to the exclusion of anyone else. I shudder to think what they would be able to do with him in their side. Kane is not only a consummate goalscorer, he is a brilliantly creative playmaker. His first-time pass to Heung-Min Son for Spurs’ opener was perfect. However, that ship has sailed for the season and yet City are still far enough ahead at this stage that the title race still seems a fairly foregone conclusion. So, to answer my own question; No. I don’t think we have a title race on. Unless City completely capitulate and forget how to play football, they will win the Premier League this season. But weirder things have happened in football.

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