Premier League 2018-19: Is it now a 3-horse race for the title?
Last weekend was definitely an important one in the twists and turns this year in the English Premier League (EPL). Manchester City lost 2-0 to Chelsea that halted their momentum a bit and brought Maurizio Sarri's side right back into title contention following patchy defeats to Wolves and Spurs. Pep Guardiola was a little irked at the press in a defeat that also signals that the Premier League would be harder to win this season.
"You don’t have to tell me how competitive this league is. It’s you and your analysts that keep saying we are invincible, that we are perfect and that, in February, we are going to win the league. You said that. All of you. Not the manager, not any player, not the club.”
Manchester City were shocked at the Stamford Bridge by Chelsea in a display that bodes well for the league. Guardiola, to be fair has always maintained that the title will be very difficult to defend and in fact welcomes the increased competition in the shape of Liverpool primarily. After 16 rounds, Jürgen Klopp’s side is the only unbeaten one left in the EPL; and as things stand, Tottenham and Arsenal are at a touching distance too.
How the Champions League groups end up is also of consequence as Liverpool and Tottenham are precariously placed in their groups. They can get knocked out and join Arsenal, Chelsea in the Europa League. Going deep into either Europa or Champions League puts a lot of strain on the league campaign. Manchester City bear the added pressure of being anointed the ‘best side in Europe’ and their coach would want to mount a serious challenge this season as the traditional powerhouses Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are not as strong as before.
All this rounds up to the question of who really is best placed to win the league? While Tottenham sit third, they are not playing at their home ground yet and are suspect to inconsistency. Arsenal under Unai Emery has been a revelation with a newly grown spine, and yet a title shot may just be too much to handle. That leaves only Chelsea to challenge the top 2, who are separated by a single point (42-41).
Not even Guardiola with his tactical nous could conquer the league in the first time of asking and struggled in his debut 2016-17. Antonio Conte did though the same year with Chelsea. While equally capable, Maurizio Sarri may just be a few key players short to emulate that. The top teams are closer in talent and personnel than before and as always the unpredictability of the teams further down makes for a situation that can flip and flop multiple times until the fag end of the season.
It does come down then to Liverpool, title-less since 1990 and who courted Jürgen Klopp to Anfield to deliver one, the first one in the modern era. Klopp has stated that he wanted to win within 4 years and 2019 marks his fourth year.
Whatever comes off the forthcoming frenetic December fixtures, Liverpool-Manchester City-Chelsea are going to be locked in a battle of attrition. The last time the title was decided on the last day in 2011-12 when City clinched it win an injury-time winner by Sergio Agüero. We can expect a scramble until the last day, surely. The indications point to it.