Feature

Why the Premier League title race is NOT over yet

By Alex Keble 18 Apr 2024
Guardiola, Arteta, Klopp

Alex Keble expects more twists and turns as Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool battle to be champions

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After a weekend when the title race swung back in Manchester City's favour, Alex Keble analyses why all is not yet lost for fellow challengers Liverpool and Arsenal with six matches of a scintillating 2023/24 season remaining.

Premier League title race

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
1 Man City MCI 38 +62 91
2 Arsenal ARS 38 +62 89
3 Liverpool LIV 38 +45 82

There will be more twists and turns ahead.

That’s the only conclusion we can draw with confidence following Sunday’s results at Anfield and Emirates Stadium, where shock defeats for Liverpool and Arsenal proved this will not be a frictionless run to the finish line.

Accurately predicting the final league table is beyond any of us, but we can at least analyse where the next slip-ups are likely to come - and there is reason to believe all three of Man City, Arsenal, and Liverpool will drop points and switch places over the next five weeks.

The story of 2023/24 is far from over

It could yet be the best Premier League title race we’ve ever seen. Only once before, in 2013/14, has there been a three-horse race this deep into a season, when there was a three-point gap between the three clubs by the 32-match mark, compared with the two points this campaign.

2013/14 title race

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
1 Man City MCI 38 +65 86
2 Liverpool LIV 38 +51 84
3 Chelsea CHE 38 +44 82
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The 2013/14 season had an iconic final few weeks, most notably Steven Gerrard’s slip in Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat to title rivals Chelsea.

Something just as dramatic is likely to happen this year, because the number of changes we’ve already seen at the top tells us these are flawed teams capable of more movement.

Changes at the top 2023/24
2023/24 Days spent top
Liverpool 87
Man City 68
Arsenal 53
Spurs 26
Brighton 7
Newcastle 7
West Ham 2

What’s more, on eight previous occasions in Premier League history the team leading after 32 matches has been pipped to the title.

When champions not top after 32 matches
Season Team Posn at 32 matches Pts behind top
1997/98 Arsenal 2nd 1
1998/99 Man Utd 2nd 2
2002/03 Man Utd 2nd 0
2009/10 Chelsea 2nd 1
2011/12 Man City 2nd 8
2013/14 Man City 3rd 7
2018/19 Man City 2nd 2
2022/23 Man City 2nd 3
Man City’s run-in is no better than Liverpool’s

But more important than that, we should ignore those who believe Man City’s two-point advantage is insurmountable, no matter how often Pep Guardiola oversees strong run-ins.

For starters, he isn’t the only one. Despite popular perception, Jurgen Klopp is actually more effective at sustaining high points totals towards the end, winning a total of 77 points from the final six matches of the campaign over the last five years compared with the 73 of Guardiola.

Guardiola v Klopp last six matches played
  Guardiola Klopp
Season W-D-L Pts W-D-L Pts
2018/19 6-0-0 18 6-0-0 18
2019/20 5-0-1 15 4-1-1 13
2020/21 4-0-2 12 5-1-0 16
2021/22 5-0-1 15 5-1-0 16
2022/23 4-1-1 13 4-2-0 14
Total 24-1-5 73 24-5-1 77

There are mitigating factors here, such as Man City having already won the title in two of these seasons - and Liverpool just once - but nevertheless the point stands: perceptions of Man City as "invincible" in the final straight are wrong.

Arsenal don’t have anything like the same record, having only become title contenders in the last couple of seasons, but they will need to do considerably better than last year’s nine points (three wins, three losses) from their final six matches.

With the myth of Guardiola’s perfection debunked, the 2023/24 Premier League title race surely has more drama still to come.

Here's where the slip-ups might happen:

Man City: Sharp opposition counters a danger

Man City have gone top of the league for the first time since November, prompting many to assume an easy ride from here.

But there are flaws in this team and some tough matches ahead.

Throughout the season City have looked more vulnerable to counter-attacks than in recent years - in 2022/23 they had an Expected Goals Against (xGA) of 25.3 after 32 matches, whereas this season it is 30.6 - and they are getting worse as tiredness builds.

Man City have conceded seven goals in their last four matches across the UEFA Champions League and Premier League, while keeping only two clean sheets in their last 10 fixtures across all competitions. That should concern Guardiola.

Even Rodri, who requested a rest at the weekend, is showing signs of fatigue. Indeed, over those last four matches his combined total of miscontrols and number of times dispossessed is 3.0 per match, up substantially from his average of 1.2 per match across the 2022/23 season.

Man City, then, can be got at on the break - and they have some sharp counter-attacking teams still to play.

Wolverhampton Wanderers rank joint-second in the Premier League for fast breaks (35), and indeed beat Man City 2-1 at Molineux back in September courtesy of two counter-attacking goals.

Tottenham Hotspur - who drew 3-3 at the Etihad in the reverse fixture - rank sixth for "direct attacks" (72) and look to attack the spaces as quickly as possible under Ange Postecoglou.

Meanwhile a trip to Fulham isn’t easy for anyone, especially if Man City qualify for the Champions League semi-finals, adding yet more minutes to an exhausting season.

Liverpool: Stubborn defences a problem 

Klopp’s team are on the precipice of collapse. They have won only two of their last five Premier League matches and three of their last eight in all competitions, crashing out of the FA Cup and (most likely) Europa League in that time.

The problem has been wasteful finishing combined with conceding the first goal far too often.

Liverpool have gone behind in five of their last six matches in all competitions, which is an unsustainable trend, especially if the goals are drying up. Across their last three fixtures, they have scored two goals from an Expected Goals (xG) of 8.9.

Fulham have the league’s best home defensive record (16 goals conceded) aside from Liverpool, Man City, and Arsenal. They will be a tough nut to crack if Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah do not improve their form.

Just behind Fulham, with the fifth-best home defensive record, is Everton (18 goals conceded).

Even if Liverpool get through these two matches unscathed, they still have the ever-stubborn Aston Villa and Wolves to play.

On the plus side, elimination from Europe will give Liverpool more time to prepare for matches and their injury problems have finally started to clear up.

They need Salah, in particular, to get back to match fitness if they are to avoid major slip-ups.

Arsenal: Three tough trips in the way

Sunday's 2-0 defeat to Villa might just be a one-off, an understandable result against a very good side playing at the top of their game.

But Arsenal's brilliant form through 2024 has been helped by a kind run of away matches. That all changes in the final three on the road.

This calendar year the Gunners have played at Nottingham Forest, West Ham United, Burnley, Sheffield United, Man City, and Brighton & Hove Albion.

Given Brighton's poor form - they have won two of their last 10 in all competitions - the only challenging match here was the 0-0 draw at the Etihad.

And before that sequence, Arsenal ended 2023 with three wins from 11 away matches in all competitions – including none from their final three in the Premier League.

Arsenal's last 11 away matches of 2023*
Opponent Result
Lens 2-1 (L)
Chelsea 2-2 (D)
Sevilla (UCL) 1-2 (W)
West Ham (EFL Cup) 3-1 (L)
Newcastle 1-0 (L)
Brentford 0-1 (W)
Luton Town 3-4 (W)
Aston Villa 1-0 (L)
PSV Eindhoven (UCL) 1-1 (D)
Liverpool 1-1 (D)
Fulham 2-1 (L)

* All PL matches unless otherwise stated

Their three remaining away fixtures are much harder: Wolves, Spurs, and Manchester United.

Wolves have beaten Man City and Spurs at home this season and present a formidable defence-and-counter system that could trouble Arsenal, while Man Utd will also likely sit back and hope to frustrate Mikel Arteta’s side.

The north London derby is, of course, an entirely different beast, and an obvious road block for Arsenal.

In short, they are no less prone to slips than Man City and Liverpool. The final five weeks promises dropped points and drama - from all three teams.

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