EPL

How the Premier League title race is shaping up – the key questions answered

By Sports Desk April 01, 2024

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola admitted the Premier League title race is “not in our hands” after a goalless draw against Arsenal on Sunday.

With just nine games left in the season, City sit one point behind Arsenal and three adrift of leaders Liverpool, who Guardiola conferred as favourites to end his side’s streak of three successive titles.

Here, the PA news agency looks at how the title race is shaping up.

What happened over the weekend?

Liverpool moved into pole position as they bid to give Jurgen Klopp the perfect send-off by coming from a goal behind to beat Brighton 2-1.

The Merseysiders were boosted a few hours later by a bore draw at the Etihad Stadium. Arsenal were at the summit prior to the latest round of fixtures but would have been the happier of the two teams after nullifying City’s attackers.

Guardiola said afterwards: “Always who is first is favourite. The second favourite is Arsenal and we are third.”

Was Guardiola correct?

Maybe, although that was far from him waving the white flag in their attempt at a historic fourth league title in a row – Huddersfield, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United have also had a hat-trick of successive crowns but no team has yet done a quadruple.

City will likely have to be close to perfect if they are to pip Liverpool and Arsenal but they have a history of being strong finishers.

At the same stage last season, City were five points adrift of Arsenal but managed to reel them in then overtake them.

Are there any differences between then and now?

Last season, City still had Arsenal to play and triumphed 4-1 at home before the Gunners fell away at the business end.

This time, City can win all nine remaining fixtures and still lose out because they have already played Liverpool and Arsenal twice.

Liverpool have been the biggest thorn in City’s side in the Guardiola era, relegating them to second spot in 2019-20, remarkably their only slip-up in six seasons.

So all Liverpool have to do is win their remaining games?

It would be a major surprise if it turned out simple as that – and that is not a slur on Liverpool’s ability to hold their nerve as they have proved their mettle time and again under Klopp.

But the pressure will continue to build and there are a few tricky fixtures, including visits to north-west rivals Manchester United on Sunday and Everton on April 24.

City next face Villa – the last side to beat them – on Wednesday while both Guardiola’s team and Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal still have to go to Tottenham between now and the end of the campaign.

All three teams are still in the hunt for European crowns, too – City and Arsenal in the Champions League and Liverpool in the Europa League – and this may be a distracting factor as well.

So there are still plenty of twists and turns to come, then?

In all likelihood, yes.

Liverpool have the edge but they have never had the threat of City breathing down their necks – the Reds were out of sight in 2020 when the crunch time came.

City have proved they enjoy being the hunters, even if they have not been firing on all cylinders recently, and Guardiola will surely not want Klopp to have the last laugh in their rivalry.

Arsenal cannot be discounted either and look a better team than the one that subsided last season, as evidenced by Sunday’s stalemate after a thrashing by City 12 months ago.

In short, a dramatic finale looms.

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    The 24-year-old Sweden international, the Magpies’ £63million record signing, has been linked with both Arsenal and Tottenham in recent weeks amid the perception that the Saudi-backed club may have to trade to comply with profit and sustainability rules.

    Isak enhanced his blossoming reputation further with a superb double in a 4-0 Premier League victory over Champions League-chasing Spurs at St James’ Park on Saturday to take his tally for an injury-interrupted season to 21.

    Asked about the need to retain his services, head coach Howe said: “We are trying to build a team, we are trying to grow everything, really, upwards and to do that as quickly as possible and as efficiently as you can, you need to keep your best players, otherwise you enter a different period where you go into transition and you have to start again.

    “Your top players, the elite ones, are so difficult to recruit, they’re so difficult to find, so when we get them, we’ve got to try to keep them.”

    Isak left Micky van de Ven sitting on his backside to open the scoring on the half-hour and when Anthony Gordon did the same two minutes later, the visitors were in trouble.

    Isak’s equally accomplished 51st-minute finish put the result beyond doubt and Fabian Schar added the flourish at the death with a thumping header on a day when the Magpies’ game-plan worked to perfection.

    For long periods, they were content to allow Spurs possession – they had just a 27 per cent share – and back themselves both to deny them clear-cut chances and to hit them on the break, and Howe could not have asked his players to execute his instructions any more comprehensively.

    Asked how good Isak could be, Howe said: “For me, he’s so exciting to work with, he’s got so many facets to his game we can explore and try to make better.

    “First and foremost, he has the undeniable quality that he wants to score, he needs to score – that’s a great characteristic for any striker to have.

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    It proved a testing day for Ange Postecoglou’s men, who were trounced 6-1 in the corresponding fixture last season before his arrival, although the Australian played down the significance of that result.

    Postecoglou said: “I think there are other explanations beyond that as to why we didn’t perform. Some of it is down to the opposition, some of it is just down to us.

    “We didn’t really get a control of the game, like we have been, and we paid a price for that.”

  • Killer instinct of matchwinner Sammie Szmodics lacking for Leeds – Daniel Farke Killer instinct of matchwinner Sammie Szmodics lacking for Leeds – Daniel Farke

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    The Leeds goalkeeper had saved from Szmodics with Blackburn’s only effort of the first period, while Pears had saved from Crysencio Summerville, Wilfried Gnonto and Connor Roberts as the home side failed to make their dominance pay.

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