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Home / Football / Spinoff by Soumya Bhattacharya: Manchester City and Liverpool’s ace rivalry

Spinoff by Soumya Bhattacharya: Manchester City and Liverpool’s ace rivalry

The English Premier League brought out some of the toughest competition seen so far, with each team upping the ante.

football Updated: May 30, 2019 18:19 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya
Soumya Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
A Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool in January.
A Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool in January.(REUTERS)

One can’t help but feel sorry for Liverpool. The most number of points amassed by a team coming second in Europe’s top five leagues. More points garnered than all but three champions in the Premier League era. How thrilling, how resolute, how invigorating, how good a team it was this season. And still not good enough to win the Premier League title.

It was not, and it did not, because of the emergence of one of the finest sides to have ever played in the Premier League. Lethal in attack, purposeful in defence, goal shielded by one of the best keepers in the contemporary game, a blur of slick pass-and-go movement, this Manchester City team may have the financial muscle to buy any player it likes, but that is not the sole reason for its spellbinding success over the past two seasons. The sense of a vision, a plan, a project, permeates its every move. Nothing is left to chance. And it shows in the 198 points the team has picked up over the past two league seasons.

In the years to come, whenever there is talk of the greatest of all time (GOAT) Premier League teams, this City side will be in the conversation, along with Alex Ferguson’s treble-winning Manchester United side of 1998-99 and Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles team of 2003-04. It is a tribute to Liverpool that it went toe-to-toe with this City side and never once blinked. This Liverpool side, too, should be in the mix when the GOAT conversation comes around.

The emergence of these two teams changes the dynamic of the Premier League. It creates a new duopoly. Behind City’s 98 points and Liverpool’s 97, third placed Chelsea has 72 points; Tottenham in fourth has 71; and Arsenal in fifth has 70. The gulf between the top two and the best of the rest is vast. And it does not look like changing in the near future.

Both teams have recruited wisely, covering deficiencies they had in every position. Both are brimming with talented, young players who will perform at their peak for years. Both have deep bench strength. (City, for instance, barely missed Kevin de Bruyne, its best player of 2017-18, when his season this time around was blighted by injury.) And both can dine at European football’s top table. Liverpool has proved this by reaching the Champions League final on two successive occasions. City, as yet, have not enough to show for itself in that regard, but that will surely change. In fact, with big rebuilds impending in European giants such as Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich, the change in City’s fortunes in Europe should come sooner rather than later.

No other team in England can hope to catch these two.

Not since Manchester United and Arsenal ignited and sustained one of the fiercest rivalries in the history of the Premier League in the late 1990s and early 2000s has the division had a duopoly. But City and Liverpool have established their holds on the top flight. Neither will go away. It is easy to see them leave the rest of the competition further behind.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, it makes the Premier League similar to the leagues in Spain or Germany or Italy or France, which are dominated by one or two sides (in Spain, perhaps three if Atletico Madrid has a good season). This dual dominance rids the Premier League of some of its unpredictability and enduring ability to surprise.

At the same time, the prospect of watching two genuinely great sides flaunt their stuff week after week is a thrill and a joy. A gripping rivalry between two high-calibre sides elevates sport to its most rarefied realm.

Spinoff appears every fortnight