Despite the gut-punching Champions League exit in Madrid last week, there will be some Manchester City fans slightly relieved to have avoided a final meeting with rivals Liverpool.
City and Liverpool are the best two teams in England, and only a sensational late comeback stopped them both from claiming to be the best in Europe. Meetings between the two have been high in quality recently, but only enjoyable for the side that doesn’t lose. To lose a Champions League final would be bad enough, but to have Liverpool fans celebrating at the same time would be unbearable for some Blues. And vice versa.
It would be fair if City won the Premier League and Liverpool won the Champions League, to reward both for brilliant seasons. But City are still far from wrapping up the title, even though they opened up a three-point lead this weekend with three games left. A mounting injury crisis means City will have to limp over the line, and there is now a realistic scenario where one slip-up could let Liverpool back in — and potentially trigger an extra play-off to determine who wins the title.
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City have a three point lead over Liverpool with games against Wolves, West Ham and Aston Villa left. They have a superior goal difference of four goals thanks to the 5-0 win over Newcastle, and that win also took them ahead on goals scored. All factors would come into play if the sides finished level on points.
With Ruben Dias, John Stones and Kyle Walker out for the season, and Nathan Ake absent against Wolves, Pep Guardiola will have to cobble together a makeshift defense for the difficult trips to Molineux and the London Stadiums — both places where they have come away empty -handed on recent visits.
If City were to lose one of those three games, Liverpool would have the chance to go back level on points, assuming they win all their remaining fixtures against Aston Villa, Southampton and Wolves.
The Premier League handbook says if two sides finish level on points at the end of the season, the following factors will be taken into account: goal difference, goals scored, then the highest points record in head-to-head matches between the sides, and then which side scored more goals as the visiting side in those head-to-head meetings.
Say City did lose one of their games, Liverpool could draw level on points and also goal difference with a four goal swing. That could be as simple as a 2-0 defeat for City and a 2-0 win for Liverpool. City have currently scored two more goals and conceded two fewer, so that scenario in the next game for either side would have both on 89 goals scored and 23 goals conceded.
If the clubs then match the results of the other with the same goals for and against, the head-to-head record would be needed to separate the sides.
However, both meetings between City and Liverpool ended 2-2 this season, with no advantage for either in points won or goals scored as a visiting team.
So that means a play-off would be needed to decide the Premier League champion for 2021/22 — a scenario that has moved worryingly closer after Liverpool’s draw and City’s big win this weekend.
The Premier League rules state: “If two clubs cannot be separated by operation of [the above metrics]a play-off on a neutral ground [shall be played]the format, timing and venue of which shall be determined by the [league] board.”
If the City injuries mean the Blues slip up once in the final three games, then there’s still a chance of a historic title play-off between City and Liverpool. It might offer a level of drama not seen in deciding the title for a decade, but you would struggle to find any City or Liverpool fan looking forward to such a game.
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