Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea are locked in a gripping Premier League title tussle… So who has the strength in depth, managerial nous and in-form superstars to come out as champions?
- The title race ramps up in December with a bumper run of festive football
- Manchester City lead the standings and thrashed Leeds 7-0 on Tuesday
- Liverpool sit in second, a game in hand on City and could go one point behind
- Chelsea sit in third place and their game in hand would put them two off top spot
The three heavyweights of English football are split by the narrowest of margins after a break-neck start to the Premier League season. Make no mistake – Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea could become the most gripping title race in Premier League history.
At present, it’s Pep Guardiola’s defending champions who have hit the front and lead Liverpool by four points, albeit having played a game more than their rivals after Tuesday’s 7-0 win over Leeds. Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, the Champions League holders, are only a point behind the Reds.
With the bumper Christmas schedule ahead, there will likely be a few twists and turns to come in the race for glory as the contenders look to balance player freshness with the pursuit of glory.
So which side, from the Christmas fixture list to the end-of-season run-in, is best placed to handle the thrills and spills of a title battle? Sportsmail makes an assessment…
Manchester City and Liverpool are the Premier League’s top two at present with Chelsea hot on their heels – but who will be on top come the end of the season?
City began the festive period in ominous style, smashing seven goals past Leeds on Tuesday night, just three days after they took title rivals Chelsea to the wire in a 3-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge.
Next, they have relegation-threatened Newcastle which shouldn’t pose too much hassle before meeting Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester on Boxing Day. After that there is an evening match against Brentford on December 29 – a definite potential banana skin.
They round off the festive period against Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal on New Year’s Day – another challenging tie although the Gunners don’t tend to fare too well against more illustrious opponents.
Manchester City lead the Premier League table by four points after thrashing Leeds 7-0
Riyad Mahrez will be away for the Africa Cup of Nations. The Algeria captain spearheads his side’s bid to retain the title they won in 2019 and he could miss up to nine fixtures depending on how well his side do.
City are well equipped to handle player absentees but if Ferran Torres also leaves for Barcelona in the January transfer window, City may suddenly look a little bit think if anyone else picks up a knock.
But certainly if you compare the impact on City to Liverpool, who will lose Salah and Mane, and Chelsea who will lose goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, you’d rather be in City’s shoes on this one.
TITLE RUN IN
City will look at their last six matches and consider themselves favourites for the lot. They play Wolves, Watford, Leeds, Newcastle, West Ham and Aston Villa to round their season off.
If Liverpool and City are still battling it out as closely as they are now, Klopp will be praying Liverpool legend and Villa boss Steven Gerrard can do him a favour.
A flawless record when it comes to winning league titles, City will have no qualms about the man leading their bid but it will be interesting if they are still competing for the Champions League at the time of their title run-in.
Pep Guardiola has an imperious trophy record but the Champions League is City’s No 1 goal
Guardiola has second-guessed himself several times in that competition before and knows how important it is for City to win the tournament for the first time. It’s also a competition he places great value on, as well, and another tournament triumph would reinforce his own legacy as a manager.
If City are battling it out on both front, don’t be surprised to see them favour the Champions League.
Jan 15: Chelsea (H) 12:30pm
April 9: Liverpool (H) 3pm
Liverpool’s five matches in 13 days start on Thursday at home to Newcastle before locking horns with Antonio Conte’s Covid-hit Tottenham side on Sunday in London.
They have a League Cup quarter-final tie with Leicester at Anfield sandwiched between Spurs and a Boxing Day match against Leeds. Two days later they meet Leicester again, at the King Power stadium and then have Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a tantalising clash on January 2.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have five matches in 13 days, starting with Newcastle this week
Of course, around that gruelling run of games is the question mark over when Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita depart for the Africa Cup of Nations to play for Egypt, Senegal and Guniea respectively.
The tournament is currently set to start on January 9 and Liverpool are desperately hoping they can come to an agreement with the appropriate nations to keep their three players for the Chelsea clash on January 2.
But Egyptian side Al Ahly are pushing for the tournament to start a week earlier as they are due to compete in the Club World Cup. Such a late change would be unlikley but if it actually happened, would mean key men depart Liverpool sooner.
Liverpool’s games without Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane could well be season-defining
Unlike City, Liverpool are not quite blessed with the same array of attacking options to back them up. Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino will be vying to partner Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota in attack – Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain’s audition as a false 9 against Aston Villa on Saturday lasted 58 minutes and was only useful for Klopp in the sense he knows not to play him there again.
Harvey Elliott is still recovering from his horror ankle dislocation while Curtis Jones, an attacking midfielder who has demonstrated a knack for a goal, is sidelined for an unknown period of time due to an eye issue.
TITLE RUN IN
Liverpool’s last six games look a bit trickier than City’s.
It starts with trip to Villa Park and another match against Steven Gerrard before the Merseyside derby at Anfield on April 23. Everton will dearly love to dent any title bid Kloop and Co have on their hands.
Newcastle and Tottenham follow that – one side potentially battling for survival, another targeting the top four – before the season is rounded off away to Southampton and home against Wolves. How crucial could the Anfield factor be if Liverpool need a result on the final day?
Liverpool have tricky games in their title run-in, including a Merseyside derby at Anfield
There is no manager Liverpool would rather have than Jurgen Klopp. But it would be fascinating to see how the German would be in a title run-in as close as the three teams are in the table now.
Liverpool were runaway leaders the year they claimed the title under Klopp, so seeing him deal with the twists and turns of a close-knit title battle would be intriguing.
Jan 2: Chelsea (A)
April 9: Manchester City (A)
It’s a good run of games for Thomas Tuchel’s men. The Christmas fun begins with a match against out-of-form Everton and old Blues manager Rafa Benitez.
Trips to the midlands to face Wolves and Aston Villa follow, with a League Cup tie against Brentford in the middle. They then host Brighton on December 29 before that blockbuster clash with Liverpool on January 2 at Stamford Bridge.
Despite a recent wobble in form, Chelsea have a favourable run of Christmas matches
It shouldn’t be underestimated what a blow Edouard Mendy’s departure for Senegal’s AFCON campaign will be. The goalkeeper has gone from strength-to-strength between the sticks as a Chelsea player and has produced an array of outstanding displays this season – the one away against Brentford immediately comes to mind.
It feels like the jury could forever be out on his replacement, Kepa Arrizabalaga, but a £72m goalkeeper as a back-up for January is no bad replacement. But the stats show Chelsea’s win percentage falls from 61.5 per cent to 46.7 without Mendy in the team.
Attacker Hakim Ziyech will also be away for the tournament representing Morocco. Chelsea should be fine for cover there.
Edouard Mendy’s absence for the Africa Cup of Nations is a significant blow for Chelsea
TITLE RUN IN
Chelsea’s final six games look like they could have a few tricky ones in there. It starts away to Leeds at Elland Road before a London derby against current high-fliers West Ham.
Everton and Wolves follow before a trip to Old Trafford against Manchester United for the penultimate game of the season. Tuchel’s side then round off their campaign at home to Watford.
Thomas Tuchel will look at his Chelsea side and know there are areas he can improve
Despite a little bit of a wobble in recent weeks, Thomas Tuchel has barely put a foot wrong since taking over from Frank Lampard earlier this year. He will have to balance the defence of the Champions League title alongside a bid for Premier League glory but Chelsea’s squad is more than strong enough to cope with that.
At PSG, Tuchel won the French league twice but the standard of competition in Ligue 1 doesn’t compare to Liverpool and Manchester City’s capabilities – nowhere else in Europe does, in fairness.
Tuchel has very quickly moulded Chelsea into a resilient side defensively – the 1-1 draw at Anfield with 10-men proved that – and if Romelu Lukaku finds fifth gear then there is more to come from them in attack as well.
Jan 2: Liverpool (H)
Jan 15: Manchester City (A)
It’s an unenviable task, far too close to just call on paper as things stands. So Sportsmail has turned to a predictor and guessed the results for the top three for the rest of the season. Here is how it turned out…
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