Remember the 2011/12 Premier League season, when Sergio Agüero scored the goal that changed the title winner in the 94th minute on the final day? Remember when Manchester City held their nerve to beat Brighton and edge Liverpool by a point on the 2018/19 final day? Remember last season when Liverpool and City wobbled on the final day but City’s outstanding turnaround against Aston Villa won them the league late on?
Note the two constants. Firstly, Manchester City won the league in all three of these seasons. Secondly, these were all fascinating title races which ran to the final day. What can we expect this season? A successful City title defence? Yes. But a close contest? It appears not.
Manchester City’s closest challengers this term will again be Liverpool, despite both clubs having lost valuable players over the summer. Pep Guardiola waved goodbye to club legends Fernandinho and Raheem Sterling, as well as Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko. Liverpool lost a club legend of their own in the form of Sadio Mané. They also lost Neco Williams, Takumi Minamino and folk hero Divock Origi.
Perhaps those sales even themselves out. But the difference can be found in the players both sides have brought in. Guardiola ought to be delighted with City’s business. They’ve purchased one of the most lethal strikers in the world in the form of Erling Haaland—who scores goals wherever he goes and is still, somehow, only 22. They also sealed the signature of one of England’s best performers on their run to the Euros final last summer: midfielder Kalvin Phillips, nabbed from his beloved Leeds United. Julian Álvarez and Sergio Gómez look like very smart additions indeed.
For Jürgen Klopp it’s not as much been a disappointing transfer window as an underutilised one. Liverpool appear to have rested on their laurels somewhat. Darwin Núñez will clearly need to temper his temperament following his crazy headbutt during the disappointing draw against Crystal Palace, but there’s no doubt that he’s an excellent striker—and one who will serve the Merseyside giants well.
But besides the Uruguayan, only ex-Fulham starlet Fábio Carvalho has any real chance of meaningful game-time in the Reds’ first XI this season among their four new signings. Liverpool do not waste money in the transfer market, that’s true. But reinvestment is a vital priority for any successful club. This season they seem to have missed the chance to close the gap on Manchester City. There is still time of course, but it is swiftly running out.
For Liverpool, it is not just the loss of Mané that seemed to contribute to their two uninspiring draws from their first two outings of the season. Joël Matip, Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota, Ibrahima Konaté, Curtis Jones and Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain are all currently out through injury. Though few are regular starters, their loss has still hampered Liverpool’s squad depth and already limited Klopp’s options off the bench.
City, meanwhile, have won their opening two games and look set for another frightfully good campaign. If Liverpool are not likely to collect enough points to push City all the way, can another team? Their neighbours Manchester United have had a hideous start to the season. Worse than seemed possibly imaginable a couple of weeks ago. There will be no title challenge there, that’s for sure.
And while Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal are the three next-best sides after City and Liverpool, all three are likelier than City themselves to drop points throughout a 38-game season like no other. With the World Cup scything the season in two, it will teams like City who show themselves able to cope—their squad depth allowing them to appropriately manage the loads on players who play significant roles for their countries, such as Kevin de Bruyne for Belgium, John Stones for England, and Portugal’s Rúben Dias. Manchester City: the eternal, uncompromising juggernaut.
For the Premier League, there is an existential question to ask. Is Manchester City’s likely dominance this season a threat to the division’s status as the best football league in the world? The simple answer is yes. Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, and the rest of the league must step up and close the gap.
Not just for their own good, but also to maintain the integrity of the Premier League as a genuine contest.