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How Man City’s near-perfection has skewed Premier League title perceptions

Liverpool took only their second defeat of the season with their 1-0 loss at Leicester, but the ridiculous standards in the Premier League title frame make it a major blow.

The Reds have now reached the halfway point in the campaign and sit second in the Premier League, having taken 41 points from their first 19 games.

No side has scored more goals than Jurgen Klopp‘s, tied with Man City on 50, while only three teams – City (12), Chelsea (13) and eighth-placed Wolves (14) – have conceded fewer than their 16.

They boast a goal difference (+34) at least 25 higher than any club outside of the top three, with their return double that of bottom side Norwich (-34).

But Liverpool came out of their Tuesday night trip to the King Power despondent, with genuine concerns over whether their title race was already run.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 28, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp speaks to his players during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“It was not our plan to give City the chance to run away,” Klopp explained after Ademola Lookman’s goal consigned the Reds to defeat.

“If we play like tonight we cannot think about catching up with City.

“If we play our football and we can win games, we can see how many points we can get and what that means.”

While Klopp insisted that his “main concern” is “not City,” but to find “a proper explanation for tonight,” the focus in the aftermath of this loss is undoubtedly the gulf between first and second.

Though the postponement of the Boxing Day clash with Leeds skews the table, Liverpool reached the halfway mark six points behind the league leaders.

No problem, right? As Virgil van Dijk said: “We’re in December. The season is so, so long. Anything can happen.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 3, 2021: Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne celebrates after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As recent history shows, though, it will be a much tougher task to reduce their deficit and overtake City than it would have been in seasons gone by.

Ahead of their clash with Brentford on Wednesday night, Pep Guardiola’s side sat on an average of 2.47 points per game in the Premier League.

If they keep up that form, which is easy to imagine, City will end the campaign with 94 points; if Liverpool maintain their course, they will finish with 82.

Incredibly, that 94-point tally would be the second-lowest produced by a Premier League champion in each of the last five seasons.

City would have won four of the last five campaigns, then, with an average of 95 points per season.

Prior to City’s record 100-point season in 2017/18, only once had a side won the Premier League with 95 points – Chelsea in 2004/05. Over a decade previous.

That includes the 42-game campaigns of 1992/93, 1993/94 and 1994/95, during which period an average of 88 points was required to top the table.

The current English top flight has been running in a 38-game format since 1994, and in the 22 seasons between then and 2017/18, the champions averaged 86 points.

Man United (twice), Arsenal (once) and Chelsea (three times) have all taken 90+ points, but those seasons are very much an outlier: the lowest title-winning tally was just 75, when United lifted the trophy in 1996/97.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 3, 2021: Manchester City's manager Josep 'Pep' Guardiola shakes hands with Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It all changed, though, with the appointment of Guardiola at the Etihad in 2016, and the strengthening of City’s financial grip of football.

Guardiola deemed it a “failure” to end his maiden season without a trophy, but since then he has picked up eight major trophies including three Premier League titles – with City on course to clinch another this time around.

According to Transfermarkt, City have made the second-highest net spend across the Premier League over the past five seasons, at £418.51 million.

Only Man United (£479.58m) have spend more, with Arsenal (£334.98m) the only other club with an outlay of over £250 million; Liverpool have spent less than half that of City, with £156.7 million.

In reality, those figures could be much, much higher at the Etihad.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 3, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

At least publically, Klopp and his players have never looked to use the spending power of their main title rivals as an excuse – more so, it serves as a motivational tactic, painting Liverpool as perennial underdogs.

But the strength and quality in depth available to Guardiola means that every point dropped is almost a disaster, and three dropped at the King Power makes a mountain to climb.

“The consistency the boys show is incredible, but that’s the only chance you have in a league [against] probably the best team in the world,” Klopp said before the loss to Leicester.

“It is really tricky to be ahead of them.

“So far at least we are not completely out of reach, it’s not at the absolute no chance anymore but of course, you know City will not drop a lot of points so you better not drop points yourself.”

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 28, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp applauds the travelling supporters after the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. Leicester City won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The irony in those comments coming ahead of only the second loss of the season will not be lost on Klopp, nor will it that it was Leicester – who had lost 6-3 to City two days previous and made five changes to their lineup in between – who inflicted that defeat.

Leicester have suffered with both COVID-19 and injuries throughout this festive period, with two of their fixtures postponed so far, and their plight is shared by almost every other club.

As it stands, City and Chelsea are the only sides not to have seen a game called off in the Premier League this season.

There is certainly an element of luck to this, but it also highlights the exceptional depth available to Liverpool’s two title rivals and City in particular.

While other games are postponed because clubs cannot name 14 eligible players, City can afford to drop Jack Grealish and Phil Foden for disciplinary reasons, while also sanctioning Ferran Torres’ January move to Barcelona.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 11, 2021: Manchester City's Bernardo Silva celebrates after scoring the winning goal during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Manchester City FC at the King Power Stadium. Manchester City won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Prior to their meeting with Brentford, 16 different City players had scored at least one goal in the Premier League and six had managed more than two – though none had netted more than seven.

For better or worse, Liverpool boast the division’s two top scorers in Mo Salah (15) and Diogo Jota (10), but only four of their 14 goalscorers have struck more than twice.

On the face of it, while Klopp can call upon 11 world-class players and a more-than-capable band of deputies, Guardiola invariably has two or three genuine game-changers on his bench at any one time.

Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne are among City’s four most subbed-on players in the league, and each could at least contend for a starting spot at Anfield.

What’s more, the Reds are set to scrape through the Africa Cup of Nations without two first-choice starters in Salah and Sadio Mane, heaping pressure on Jota and Roberto Firmino.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 28, 2021: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah look dejected after the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. Leicester City won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi currently injured, just over a week before the tournament kicks off in Cameroon, Klopp could be desperately short of attackers at a time when his side cannot afford to drop any more points.

The landscape of the Premier League – in a global pandemic, with one major tournament held midway through this season and another, the ridiculous World Cup in Qatar, held halfway through the next – makes the achievements of Klopp’s condensed squad all the more impressive.

It is simply unfortunate that they have found themselves up against the richest, strongest and most consistent side in Premier League history.

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