Manchester City’s first league win at Anfield in almost two decades moved Pep Guardiola’s side five points clear at the top of the Premier League and still with a game in hand.
The match was billed as a pivotal one in the title race and City’s emphatic 4-1 win over Liverpool was a huge statement of intent as they look for a third league crown under Guardiola.
Here the PA news agency takes a look at where it leaves the battle for the Premier League trophy.
Is the title City’s to lose?
1️⃣ Southampton ✅2️⃣ Newcastle ✅3️⃣ Chelsea ✅4️⃣ Brighton ✅5️⃣ Palace ✅6️⃣ Villa ✅7️⃣ West Brom ✅8️⃣ Sheff Utd ✅9️⃣ Burnley ✅🔟 Liverpool ✅
— Manchester City (@ManCity) February 8, 2021
Well, simply put, yes. With a five-point cushion and an extra game to play, City’s fate is firmly in their hands. The victory at Anfield was City’s 10th in a row in the league, a run which has banished memories of a slow start to the campaign. But as Guardiola acknowledged following the midweek win over Burnley, the bulk of those wins had come over sides in the bottom half of the table. They passed the Liverpool test with flying colours, but it was only the first of a much more difficult run of games against Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal, West Ham and Manchester United. How long can this momentum last?
Have City solved all their problems?
The arrival of Ruben Dias and the resurgence of John Stones has seen City solve the defensive softness which undermined last season’s title bid, but for much of the first part of the season it appeared to come at the expense of their attacking flair. During October and November, City managed only five league goals in six games. But, despite the continued absence of Sergio Aguero and issues which have limited Gabriel Jesus’ appearances, City have rediscovered their groove and are now third top scorers in the league, with their goal difference 10 better off than second-placed United behind them, 9-0 win over Southampton or not.
Is there more chaos to come?
Man City: 🖐 points clear at the top pic.twitter.com/5TuKOgw3Ov
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 7, 2021
For so many reasons this season has been a rollercoaster so far. Last month City became the ninth different side to top the Premier League table at the end of a match day. With the season only just barely past halfway, it could well be too soon to decide this race is run. The impact of the compacted schedule and the potential for further postponements and disruption are among the potential ‘x’ factors with plenty of the campaign still to go.
Will City’s squad be stretched?
Strength in depth has always been one of City’s primary assets. Not only do they have the best players, but plenty of them. But this season has stretched Guardiola’s resources more than any other. Injuries to Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne have been significant, but coronavirus has also struck more than once. Thirteen members of City’s first-team squad have been in self-isolation at some point or other during the season – a situation which is ongoing. Jurgen Klopp’s jibe about a ‘two-week break’ was shot down, and given unknowns over the potential impact over long Covid this may yet be a major factor in the months to come.
Can City fight on four fronts?
The first leg at Borussia-Park will be played Wednesday 24 February.
And the return game at the Etihad is scheduled for Tuesday 16 March.
Both matches kick off at 8pm UK time.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 14, 2020
The fixture list has never been more relentless than it is in this compacted season, but there are no signs of a let up for Guardiola’s men. The Carabao Cup has been put to one side until April when they play Spurs in the final, but attention returns to the FA Cup this week, with the Champions League back on the agenda in a fortnight too. With a case to be made for anyone in the top four to be in the title fight, City cannot afford to take their foot off the gas, but it will be a big ask to keep enough in the tank.