So here comes the moment of truth. We are about to discover whether there is the remotest chink of vulnerability about either of the two gladiators who have traded punches in the title race.
Top spot has changed hands 27 times, more than in any top flight campaign since the Second World War. Liverpool and Manchester City have dominated, with Chelsea the only other club to head the table, twice in August and for a week in September.
Liverpool are on course for a haul of 97 points — a tally which would have won them the Premier League title in every season but the last one — and to lose only one top-flight game for the first time in their 127-year history. But if they are to end their 29-year quest to become champions again, the time has come for one of Manchester City’s remaining opponents to deny them a victory.
Manchester City and Liverpool are locked in one of the greatest Premier League title races
Liverpool’s only real hope resides with their old foes, Manchester United, capitalising on the fervour of an Old Trafford derby on Wednesday.
If United can halt the City juggernaut, Liverpool would assume a commanding position with three games to play. If City win, it is hard to see beyond them seeing out the three victories they require.
British football has known nothing like this. So, how can we explain the greatest title fight in the game’s history?
This component, sometimes overstated, is indisputably significant. The pressure in the final stretch nearly always tells for one team, often both. Manchester United lost at Wigan, while City drew with Sunderland and Stoke during the finale in the 2012 season which, in recent times, is the only campaign to match this one.
But these two sides do not have what Sir Alex Ferguson famously described as a ‘Devon Loch’ moment in them. They have lost one game apiece since the turn of the year and City’s relentless capacity to win has, in some ways, helped Liverpool to blank out pressure. On level terms at home to Tottenham with 20 minutes to play, 23 days ago, they left two men at the back, played eight up and found a winner.
The psychological element is more significant at Liverpool, whose bid to reclaim the title creates what Klopp has described as ‘the history on our backs.’
Five years ago, Brendan Rodgers read out messages about the players, canvassed from their mothers, during the run-in. Steven Gerrard, steeped in the club’s glorious past, issued his on-pitch ‘We go again,’ oratory.
Klopp is so averse to raising expectations that talk of a title has become tantamount to slander in his press conferences.
City’s relentless capacity to win has helped Liverpool to blank out pressure during the run-in
The riches of the Premier League — football’s global league — has delivered the world’s best managers. They are Hollywood bosses, you might say, who bring a touch-line and press conference choreography which adds a rich and attractive dimension to this fight.
Ferguson and Arsene Wenger provided fascination which resided in their personal rivalry and capacity to spit blood at times. But Pep Guardiola and Klopp bring erudition, sophistication, the cosmopolitan and that inclination to live every game on the touchline, where their movements and reactions are as much a part of the theatre.
Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp's movements and reactions are as much a part of the theatre
Klopp's three mighty punches to the Kop after the win over Chelsea brings emotion in the raw
Guardiola’s press conference manoeuvres are subtler. The insignia on his sweatshirt last Friday — #LIFE — spoke to a desire to do away with the morbidity of Champions League defeat, two days earlier.
Klopp, with his three mighty punches to the Kop after the home win over Chelsea a few days earlier, brings emotion in the raw. When Liverpool were serial winners, Bob Paisley took a seat in the main stand and spoke in a generally undecipherable Wearside accent. Different days.
With managers of such quality come a tactical