There are only four games left in Manchester City’s season, but after falling apart at the Bernabéu against Real Madrid, there is much more than 12 points and the Premier League at stake.
Carlo Ancelotti credited Real’s history as a reason behind their impressive comeback in the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday night. “If you have to say why, it’s the history of this club that keeps us going when it feels like we’re gone,” he said.
At City, despite all the resources they have now, they are still carving out their identity as one of Europe’s heavyweights. But if things go much worse in their remaining four matches, it will be hard for them not to shake off the choker tag, certainly compared to the ‘mentality freaks’ of Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp.
Pep Guardiola (left) and Jurgen Klopp experienced two very different Champions League nights
Man City squandered a two-goal aggregate lead against Real Madrid by conceding two goals in one minute against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu
A Luis Díaz inspired Liverpool, meanwhile, came back from 2-0 down to beat Villarreal 3-2
It cannot be forgotten that in January, after Liverpool drew 2-2 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, City held an 11-point lead over Jurgen Klopp’s men. In fact, it was Chelsea who were the closest rival and ‘closest’ is a vague term: they had a 10-point deficit to overcome.
That gap stretched to 14 points at its highest, but City will fairly point out that Liverpool have two games in hand at that stage, so 14 points was effectively eight. But that’s still a substantial lead for a team of City’s caliber and to have narrowed it down to just one is a remarkable feat from Liverpool.
Virgil van Dijk nearly handed City the title that day after Chelsea. “It’s a big gap, maybe they have the title to lose, but a lot can still happen,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville agreed that City were going to win the league.
‘If Liverpool had won [at Chelsea] and they got the extra two points, and if they won their game against Leeds, as they would be expected to do, then the gap to City would be six points, which would be very difficult,” Carragher said.
“Once it goes beyond that, and you need three games to catch Manchester City, I just don’t see it at all.
But now City have to show what they are made of. The form of Real Madrid’s defeat on Wednesday is almost ideal for Liverpool. A late collapse that will damage confidence, extra time and another 30 minutes in the legs and an injury to a key man in Kyle Walker. And there is also added scrutiny on Pep Guardiola, whose Champions League record is getting more and more skewed with each passing year.
The momentum is with Liverpool at present as they chase an unprecedented quadruple.
Pep Guardiola has now not won the Champions League in 11 years and has endured a series of surprising exits from Europe’s biggest tournament.
MEETING IN THE CITY
May 8: Newcastle (H)
May 11: Wolves (A)
May 15: West Ham (A)
May 22: Aston Villa (H)
INTERVIEW IN LIVERPOOL
May 7: Tottenham (H)
May 10: Aston Villa (A)
May 14: Chelsea (FA Cup Final)
May 17: Southampton (A)
May 22: Wolves (H)
May 28: Real Madrid (CL final)
A curious starting eleven against Chelsea cost them the final last year, just like the year before against Lyon. Against Tottenham in 2019, a late goal from Raheem Sterling was ruled out by VAR, meaning a 73rd-minute goal from Fernando Llorente saw Tottenham advance on away goals.
Guardiola has not won the Champions League in 11 years and eight of his previous outings have seen collapses in which at least two goals have been conceded in under 20 minutes.
He’ll have to wait until next season for a chance to correct that mistake on the mainland. Now the focus must be on Newcastle on Sunday and containing Liverpool’s surge.
Sometimes it’s easier to be the hunter than the hunted. It is often seen in golf, when a player hits head-on and with the leaderboard breathing down his neck, he misses his shot.
City might be deep in the bunker at the moment, but it’s not a situation that can’t be fixed. A tough tie against Newcastle awaits them and they could even go into that game in second place if Liverpool beat Tottenham on Saturday night, their toughest league game remaining this season.
For Liverpool, Ancelotti’s quote after his victory at City is also true for them. They have a history of fighting against all odds, when they seem dead and buried, doing things the hard way.
When Liverpool drew with Chelsea in January, City were expected to win the league.
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti discussed the history of his club that inspired his comeback against all odds, and the same can be said for Liverpool.
It would almost be a stereotype for Liverpool to wrest the title from City on a relentless winning streak and when all is said and done, City are still in the driving seat to defend their league title. Liverpool simply need to win all their remaining league games to stand a chance.
City’s streak is also more favorable. Newcastle, Wolves, a West Ham that could be three days away from the Europa League final, and Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa is a friendlier streak than Spurs, Villa, Southampton and Wolves for Klopp’s side, which also has the FA Cup final against Chelsea on May 14. It’s also reflected at the bookies: City’s chances of winning the league haven’t changed in light of Wednesday’s loss.
But no one can argue where the momentum lies. It may even help Liverpool to have so much at stake: focus is less likely to fade and their confidence continues to grow as they battle for an unprecedented quadruple.
For City, they need to pick up the pieces and fast. A season without trophies would be nothing short of a disaster for everyone involved.