A thrilling Premier League title race comes down to the final day of the season on Sunday when Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool will have to make history if they are to overtake leaders Manchester City and end their 29-year domestic title drought.
City lead by a single point, so to get their hands on the trophy Liverpool will have to become the first team in the history of Europe’s richest domestic club competition to move above the leaders on the final day.
Pep Guardiola’s City are firm favourites to retain the title as they travel to Brighton, a team that narrowly avoided relegation. Liverpool take on Wolves at Anfield, dreaming of a second dramatic turnaround in a week after the memorable 4-0 win against Barcelona on Tuesday that propelled them into the Champions League final.
The last team to start the final day in first place and not win the title were in fact Liverpool in 1989, when Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Anfield clinched the old First Division.
Whichever club does win will have earned the trophy the hard way.
City, on 95 points, have won their past 13 Premier League matches to wipe out a seven-point lead for Liverpool and are on the brink of becoming the first team to win successive titles since Manchester United in 2009.
Klopp’s men, with 94 points, have recovered from a mid-season stumble to record eight straight victories.
To underline the two clubs’ dominance, third-placed Chelsea only have 71 points going into their final game against Leicester City.
Liverpool, who have been English champions 18 times but have not won since the 1989-1990 season, face the scarcely credible scenario of ending the season with the third-highest points tally in Premier League history and a single defeat yet still missing out.
Abu Dhabi-owned City look almost certain to finish off the job and Guardiola said he has so much faith in his players that a pre-match team-talk will not be necessary.
“I don’t have to say anything to motivate them. I think my speech on Sunday will be zero,” he said.
“They want to win the Premier League. From what I saw in the training sessions, they want to win it, knowing that we can lose it.
AFP/File / Oli SCARFF Sergio Aguero will aim to repeat the goalscoring heroics that won City the title on the final day of the 2011-2012 season
“We saw in the Champions League in the last week why this game is amazing. But we want to win. So we are going to go out there at Brighton to try to win the game.”
If City only draw and Liverpool beat Wolves, it would hand the title to the Reds.
City cannot quite match the record 100 points they mustered last season but they have shown their ability to dig deep in recent weeks.
Guardiola’s side have racked up 91 goals this season, but three of their past four wins have been 1-0 victories, including the nervy match against Leicester on Monday settled by a Vincent Kompany strike. It kept City on course for a historic domestic treble, which would underline their status as the dominant force in the English game.
– ‘It’s not in our hands’ –
Klopp will have to re-focus his players’ minds after their heroics against Barcelona as they cling to the hope that City will slip up against Brighton.
“We think about Wolves now,” said Klopp, who despite his stellar reputation has not won a major trophy since 2012.
“(Barcelona) was for sure one of the best moments in football history, not only Liverpool. But it has nothing to do with the weekend except that we should be confident.”
AFP/File / GEOFF CADDICK Liverpool have lost just one Premier League match all season
The Liverpool narrative has changed dramatically since they humiliated Lionel Messi’s Spanish giants amid ecstatic scenes at Anfield.
Even if they fall short on Sunday they have the chance to become champions of Europe for a sixth time if they beat fellow Premier League club Tottenham in Madrid on June 1.
Regardless of whether Liverpool finish the weekend on top, Klopp insists he is happy with his team’s progress after four years in charge.
“Sunday is our last Premier League game. If we can win it, it’s not in our hands what we get, but it doesn’t make our season a little bit less good. It’s just a different finish,” he said.
Behind the front two, all the issues in the Premier League are virtually done and dusted.
Barring a spectacular swing in goal difference, Tottenham will finish above Arsenal and mathematically secure the remaining Champions League spot alongside Chelsea, while the highest Manchester United can finish is fifth.
Wolves, in seventh place, cannot be caught and will earn a Europa League spot provided Watford do not beat City in the FA Cup final.
Sunday (1400 GMT)
Brighton v Manchester City, Burnley v Arsenal, Crystal Palace v Bournemouth, Fulham v Newcastle, Leicester v Chelsea, Liverpool v Wolves, Manchester United v Cardiff, Southampton v Huddersfield, Tottenham v Everton, Watford v West Ham