Breaking down thrilling EPL title race with 10 games left
EPL

Breaking down thrilling EPL title race with 10 games left

Mar 29, 2024

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One of the most intoxicating title races in Premier League history is, mercifully, ready to resume.

The quirks of the calendar – an FA Cup weekend succeeded by an agonizing international window – means the titanic tussle between Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City will have been on hiatus for a full three weeks before it gets back underway on Sunday.

But there are no more impending interruptions. With 10 matches remaining for each title contender, we’re barreling toward a resolution to the type of three-way battle that’s exceedingly rare in England’s top flight. There’s never been a season in the Premier League era where three teams went into the final day with a chance to hoist the trophy. This could be it. The last time it happened was the 1971-72 campaign, when Derby County won an incredible four-team fight, narrowly beating Leeds United and, ominously, Liverpool and Man City to the crown. We’re overdue for that kind of drama.

That three sides have converged this way at all is, frankly, remarkable.

These are the three best teams in the country by an enormous margin. They’re the only ones with an expected goal difference per game of plus-1.0 or greater this season. The next best mark, surprisingly, belongs to Mauricio Pochettino’s erratic Chelsea team at plus-0.36. So, yeah, it’s not close.

The three of them are also on a tear and show no signs of slowing down. Arsenal have won all eight of their league games in 2024, scoring 33 goals in the process; Liverpool have collected 22 of a possible 27 points in that time; reigning champions Manchester City have racked up 23 of 27 points. They’ve combined for just one loss since the calendar flipped – Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat against Arsenal in early February.

The only sides that look capable of halting their progress are each other, which makes this weekend’s clash between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad all the more significant.

Each contender has a compelling reason for believing it’s “their” year.

Arsenal

Mikel Arteta’s men look far more assured and mature than last season when they set the pace for nearly the entire campaign, only to crumble down the stretch and relinquish their once sizeable advantage to Manchester City. Do-it-all superstar Declan Rice has been a transformative figure in midfield, while Kai Havertz, after an inauspicious start, is becoming an increasingly vital and consistent scoring threat. At least from the outside, there appears to be more self-belief within the Arsenal camp. Having learned from their experience in 2022-23, Arsenal won’t cede top spot so easily this time. It’ll need to be ripped from them.

Some may be inclined to dismiss their recent run because of their opponents. Yes, the Gunners have played some weak teams – Sheffield United! Burnley! Nottingham Forest! – but, for the most part, they aren’t just beating them; they’re blowing them away with a ruthlessness usually associated with title winners. For those still unconvinced, Sunday’s visit to the Etihad, where they were tossed aside like a rag doll in last season’s 4-1 loss, will be the ultimate litmus test to see if this team is ready to end the club’s 20-year title drought.

Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp’s persistent squad, already with the League Cup in tow, aims to send off their departing bench boss in style. Liverpool have been the most entertaining team of the trio this season. They create more chances than Arsenal and City and concede more opportunities. Darwin Nunez, the ultimate agent of chaos on a football pitch, is the perfect fit for a team with a habit of scoring late goals and delivering dramatic moments. Their title charge is built on more than just vibes, though.

Liverpool overwhelmed none other than City in their last league game before the international break but came away from the pulsating affair at Anfield with a 1-1 draw. City, usually self-confident and domineering in possession, simply held on against what Pep Guardiola dubbed a “tsunami” of pressure. There was obviously some added incentive at play, but Liverpool are built to go full speed regardless of the opposition. It’s in their nature under Klopp.

Manchester City

Despite not being at its vintage best this term, Guardiola’s accomplished crew remains the favorite in the eyes of many who, for good reason, simply refuse to pick against them. We’ve been conditioned to feel like City will inevitably be the last team standing because, well, they usually are. Five titles in the previous six seasons will have that effect on the collective psyche. However, Erling Haaland isn’t replicating his ferocious scoring pace from last season, and Kevin De Bruyne has been limited to six league starts. Also, outside of some electrifying Jeremy Doku performances, the summer signings haven’t exactly set the world alight. And yet, here they are, just one point off the top, showing the quiet confidence and tranquility that can only be obtained through winning experiences.

With Phil Foden leading the way and authoring arguably the best season of anyone in the league, City could become the first team in English history to win four consecutive top-flight titles.

Strength of schedule

On paper, Arsenal have the most difficult fixture list.

Their remaining opponents average 41.8 points this season, roughly corresponding to ninth place in the table. Put another way, it would be the equivalent of playing Wolves (41 points) or Brighton (42) each week. It doesn’t help that many of Arsenal’s toughest matches are away from home. Coincidentally, they have upcoming trips to Brighton and Wolves, along with north London rivals Tottenham and Manchester United, following this weekend’s potentially decisive tilt at the Etihad. It’s tough.

Manchester City’s task is slightly more forgiving, as their remaining opponents average 40.7 points or 10th place.

Liverpool appear to have the most favorable schedule of the trophy chasers, with their opponents averaging 38.4 points, a tally representing the haul of a team in the bottom half of the table. While that’s better than the alternative, it’s not quite so simple for the Reds. On the back of a potentially draining Europa League quarterfinal second leg against Atalanta in mid-April – more on that soon – Klopp’s men have three away games in seven days against Fulham, Everton, and West Ham. In addition to battling their local nemesis, who could still be scrapping for survival at that point, Liverpool will also face a rambunctious Goodison crowd that would love nothing more than to play a critical role in stopping their hated rivals from winning another league crown.

Aston Villa and Spurs, meanwhile, stand out as common foes for all three title hopefuls. Sitting fourth and fifth, respectively, and engaged in their own fight to secure a Champions League place, they could play the role of kingmakers this spring.

European commitments

Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Balancing the mental and physical demands of domestic play with continental competition is a huge piece of this puzzle for all three teams. Midweek success can further galvanize a group, but taxing failures can cripple a team’s momentum at home.

Much like the domestic schedule, Liverpool seem to have an edge here. Arsenal and Manchester City will face European behemoths Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in a pair of mouthwatering Champions League quarterfinal ties beginning next month. However, Liverpool have a comparatively charitable Europa League encounter with Atalanta.

If they both advance, Arsenal and City will meet in the Champions League semifinals, an outcome that will surely be celebrated wildly on Merseyside.

How those games intermingle with the league schedule also matters. Liverpool play Crystal Palace and Fulham following their two matchups with the Italian outfit. After locking horns with Bayern, Arsenal have to contend with Aston Villa and Wolves. Manchester City, still active on three fronts as they seek a second consecutive treble, host lowly Luton after the first leg of their Real Madrid rematch and take on Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinals following the second leg.

Injury concerns

Simon Stacpoole/Offside / Offside / Getty

Liverpool have been plagued by injuries all season. Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota, and Andy Robertson, among others, have missed varying amounts of time, though the bulk of that group is getting back to full fitness. Alisson Becker remains sidelined and might not return until mid-April. Defensive stalwart Virgil van Dijk is the only Liverpool player to garner over 2,000 league minutes this season, indicating how disruptive injuries have been for Klopp’s team. And yet, they persevere.

Five Manchester City players have cleared the 2,000-minute mark thus far, and a couple more are on the cusp. But the club was without De Bruyne for the entire first half of the season, while trips to the treatment room ravaged Jack Grealish’s year. City also got hit the hardest by the recent international break, with John Stones and Kyle Walker hurt on England duty and racing against time to recover for Sunday’s match versus Arsenal. Swiss defender Manuel Akanji is in the same boat, and Ederson’s return date from a thigh injury remains uncertain. Never shy about tweaking his lineup, Guardiola could be forced to tinker yet again.

Arsenal have been largely unscathed, with six players eclipsing 2,000 league minutes. William Saliba, whose absence last season played an outsize role in Arsenal’s capitulation, has been on the pitch for every second of league play in 2023-24. Gabriel Jesus has battled ailments all year, and Jurrien Timber suffered an ACL injury just 49 minutes into his Premier League debut in the season opener. But the Gunners will be hoping their relative good fortune on the injury front extends right through May, especially as it relates to Bukayo Saka, who pulled out of the England squad to nurse a minor muscular issue.

Prediction

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First, a disclaimer: Luck will play a pivotal role in determining which team is crowned on May 19. Injuries will continue to be a factor. There will almost certainly be contentious refereeing and VAR decisions that favor and oppose the title challengers. There will also be finishing variance, with players missing seemingly easy chances and converting more difficult opportunities.

Impossible to predict? No matter. We’re not going to let that stop us.

Considering their advantageous schedule, at home and in Europe, along with their improving squad health at just the right time and the inescapable feeling that this is a team of destiny determined to send their beloved manager out on a high, we’re going with Liverpool, who’ll collect 88 points to pip their rivals and again interrupt Manchester City’s run of domestic dominance.

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