While City are favourites to claim a second Premier League crown in three years, Liverpool are still in with a chance to claim a first title since 1990.
But who is the most deserving of usurping United?
Style of play
Brendan Rodgers’ appointment at Liverpool was supposed to herald a new era of possession-based dominance from the Reds, much in the same vein as his former club Swansea. However, hamstrung by a playing staff not suited to a controlled possession game, pragmatism has shaped Liverpool into a brutal counter-attacking unit capable of pulverising teams indiscriminately.
City have a more varied approach with Yaya Toure the embodiment of their diverse armoury; effortless finesse married with explosive power has seen City wear down opponents or pass them into submission.
Equally as aesthetically pleasing, Liverpool’s ability to admonish teams home or away gives them the stylistic edge purely on the basis of an unwillingness to compromise. This unwillingness may have cost them the league – see the Chelsea game at Anfield – but has simultaneously produced some of the season’s most breathtakingly devastating performances.
The Reds have received lavish praise for a transfer policy that has seen them buy well, and coax much from said signings. Liverpool buy potential. However, their Achilles heel remains their defence but while they signed there over the summer they did not improve the calibre of player occupying those starting spots. Mamadou Sakho or Aly Cissokho have failed to shore up a leaky defence; while Tiago Ilori was immediately loaned to Granada.
City’s back four has had a familiar feel to it since the days of Mark Hughes – with Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany mainstays for years. Continuity is, of course, a key factor to success. However, their failure window-on-window to sign another centre-back or left-back to complement cost them dear in Europe and could have cost them in the league. Alvaro Negredo has been a resounding success – particularly when compared to the travails of Roberto Soldado.
Purely on the impact of Negredo in the absence of Sergio Aguero, City take the spoils here. The absence of one of Liverpool’s main protagonists – say, for example, Jordan Henderson – has had, it could be argued, a near terminal effect on their run in. City’s wealth has afforded them the opportunity to construct a squad with a good level of depth – certainly when compared to that of Liverpool.
Such is the light nature of the Liverpool squad, the very fact that they go into the last game of the season with a chance – albeit a slight one – of claiming the league title suggests that their threadbare squad has very rarely been tested by an injury epidemic. Yes, Daniel Sturridge has been absent here and there but his absence could hardly be categorised as consistent.
Manuel Pellegrini has had to endure the absence of his best player Sergio Aguero for large swathes of the season. Such was the imperious nature of their early season form with the Argentine at the point of their attack there was serious consideration given to the possibility of a quadruple in the Chilean’s first season in charge. "The Engineer” has done well to cajole a possible league and cup double out of a side that has often been missing the considerable talents of Aguero, Toure and David Silva.
City have endured – although endure is a strong word for a side with such a lavish squad – the more sapping of injury lists and it is credit to the tactical acumen of Pellegrini that they did for much of the season mount a four-pronged trophy challenge.
Likeability of players
There has been talk amongst many a media outlet of the rehabilitation of Luis Suarez through the currency goals. While this particular yarn has a rather satisfying narrative it is, unfortunately, a fallacy. For at the centre of any real rehabilitation lies an acceptance that there was wrongdoing in the first place. This acceptance has not been forthcoming and as such there is no closure to a rather unedifying episode that has now run into two years. While Suarez may generally be a rather likeable fellow his likeability factor is somewhat dimmed by *that* indiscretion. The rest of the squad seem like good chaps, though.
The nouveau riche are generally a despised lot. City, it appears, buck that trend. Maybe it has something to do with their tendency to implode – see last season’s FA Cup final – or an apparent lack of egos inside the squad, but they are a likeable bunch. As they become more successful they will surely become more disliked. It does help that their captain is an engaging, articulate character who plays the “game in the right spirit” in spite of the pondering nature of Martin Demichelis alongside him.
A resounding City victory here.
Brendan Rodgers’ handling of the Suarez saga this summer was only bettered by his coaching acumen during the season. If Rodgers – once sacked by Reading – was something of an unknown quantity despite his successes at Swansea, he is now very much a manager at the top of his profession.
Manuel Pellegrini has been at times – for want of a better word – derided for a lack of silverware during his managerial career. Unfairly pigeonholed as a man of style over substance but this year – and certainly if City win the title – he has proven himself a coach of style and substance. The manner in which he has changed City’s style this season has been nothing short of magnificent.
The regularity with which managers are discarded in the modern game would suggest to the casual observer that their currency is on the wane. However, the endeavours of Pellegrini and Rodgers disproves this theorem in the extreme. Purely on the basis of the improvement in veterans, such as Steven Gerrard, and underachievers like Jordan Henderson, alike, then Rodgers must just edge this category.
Manchester City - 3
Liverpool - 2