The Premier League title race is bubbling towards a crescendo this tomorrow, as two outstanding teams are separated by a single point heading into the final round of fixtures.
Liverpool, on 94 points, host Wolves at Anfield while Manchester City, one ahead on 95 points, visit Brighton.
It has been a race of relentless, extraordinary quality and here Sportsmail assess some of the key twists and turns in a battle that appears destined to be won by Manchester City…
1. Riyad Mahrez misses a penalty at Anfield
After unbeaten starts to the campaign, Liverpool and City met at Anfield for a game that had the visitors quivering. City had not won at Liverpool since 2003 and last season lost 4-3 in the Premier League before crashing out of the Champions League against Jurgen Klopp’s side. Yet City were the better side on the day but spurned a crucial opportunity to win the game when Riyad Mahrez blasted a late penalty kick over the bar. A City win at Anfield may have diminished Liverpool’s belief. Instead, the escape renewed spirits…
2. Jordan Pickford’s blooper
Amid scenes of wild delirium, as Klopp ran across the Anfield turf to celebrate Divock Origi’s last-gasp winner, this felt like the day Liverpool’s title charge started in earnest in the winter. Everton played well at Anfield and deserved a point. Then, a poor strike from Virgil van Dijk spooned into the air and began to loop down towards Jordan Pickford’s goal. The England goalkeeper lost his bearings. He panicked, patting the ball down, where Origi pounced to score in the 96th minute.
3. The City Blip
After taking 41 points from their opening 15 games, City appeared to be on the cusp of another Centurion season. Yet December yielded an unexpected slump in form. It began in dramatic fashion at Stamford Bridge, as Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea beat City 2-0 on a day Raheem Sterling was viciously abused by Chelsea supporters. City then lost two of their next three, falling to defeat against Crystal Palace at home and Leicester away. After 19 games, City were seven points behind Liverpool and had even been overtaken by Tottenham. Indeed, even Arsenal were within six points of Guardiola’s team by Boxing Day…
4. Turning Point at The Etihad
The fixture calendar offers immediate hope of a City reprieve. Liverpool have won nine on the spin and can move 10 points clear if they beat Guardiola’s team at the Etihad on January 3. Liverpool play well, Vincent Kompany is fortunate to avoid a red card, but City simply refuse to lie down and record a crucial 2-1 win. The gap is four points and City sense opportunity.
5. Liverpool start to drop points…
Liverpool respond well to defeat at City by beating Brighton and then Crystal Palace, but there are signs of frailty as they concede three in the victory over Roy Hodgson’s team. On January 29, City lose again (for the final time this season in the Premier League) as Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle inflict defeat. Yet the following evening, Liverpool miss a chance to restore a seven-point lead when they are held at home against Leicester. Liverpool then draw at West Ham and the net is closing…
6. Did Liverpool freeze at Old Trafford?
Manchester United are reinvigorated under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, having defeated Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain in the Norwegian’s early time at the club. Yet the visit of Liverpool was a strange occasion. Liverpool lost Roberto Firmino to an early injury but United lost three players in the first half alone, as Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera all surrendered to injuries. It left United disjointed and inexperienced in midfield but Liverpool seemed to settle for a point. ‘On days when United are beatable, you have to do it,’ Klopp conceded.
Liverpool were also held to a goalless draw by Everton. In a normal season, these are creditable results. In this ferociously competitive title race, they may instead be cast as the days the title slipped away.
7. Van Dijk’s winner against Tottenham
Both sides are now back to relentless form at the top of the table. Manchester City have won their final 13 games of the season, beating Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham. After the 3-2 win at Newcastle on Saturday night, Liverpool are on an eight-match winning streak but it is not always straightforward. Tottenham almost crash the party at Anfield, drawing level and spurning chances on the counter-attack. Then, in injury-time, Anfield is sent into ecstasy once again, as a Hugo Lloris blunder leads to an own goal by Toby Alderweireld.
8. David de Gea’s slip-ups
A now beleaguered Manchester United have reverted to type and come into a Manchester derby in April on the back of a 4-0 hammering by Everton. David de Gea’s errors are not as glaring as Pickford’s but City benefit from two poor reactions from the Spanish goalkeeper, as a decent first-half performance by United is undone by De Gea’s lapses for goals by Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane. City maintain their lead at the top.
9. Divock Origi pounces again
The title race is now in its final throes and if Newcastle, managed by former Liverpool boss Benitez, take anything from Klopp’s side, then the battle is all but over. Liverpool twice surrender their lead and a spirited Newcastle team look set to take a precious draw. But Liverpool refuse to be defied. Divock Origi stoops from a set-piece to guide in another crucial header and piles the pressure back onto Manchester City ahead of a home match against Leicester on Monday night.
10. Vincent Kompany raises the roof
City’s results have been spectacular in the spring but the performances have become more modest in recent weeks. In their final 10 games of the season, City have scored more than two goals only twice in a Premier League game. Instead of free-wheeling attacking, their defence has come to the fore, keeping eight clean sheets in ten matches and City have won five of those games by a 1-0 margin. Fitting, then, that defensive lynchpin Kompany should be the man to take the plaudits as City take a giant step towards the title in beating Leicester 1-0. Midway through the second half, City are becoming a little aimless and disjointed. Then their captain decides to get involved. To score the goal of a lifetime and leave City one victory away from the title this weekend…