The 2018-19 title race has undoubtedly been one of the most thrilling in recent years, and in the end it was a shame that someone had to lose. Here, our writers look at the season from the perspectives of the eventual champions and the unsuccessful challengers, looking back at an intensely dramatic campaign for both Manchester City and Liverpool.
Manchester City- Adam Williams
As the narrative of the 2018/19 title race unfolded, there was a strong argument to proffer Manchester City as the villain of the piece. Oil rich, playing in front of a ¾ capacity crowd and embroiled in allegations of financial doping, plucky and charming underdogs they certainly were not.
But, in the midst of all the rhetoric and the blistering title challenge from their rivals on Merseyside, it’s easy to neglect giving Guardiola and Manchester City their dues. Yes, they spent on a scale hitherto unforeseen in football, but what City’s Catalan ringmaster has done on these shores goes beyond money, beyond narratives, beyond common sense, even. Guardiola’s men played at the very frontier of football, constantly testing the limits of what the game can be – even if it wasn’t particularly endearing, no one can deny their fundamental brilliance
Last season, City’s opponents seemed to be pissing in the wind, this season some seemed to give up pissing altogether. Such was the disparity in terms of quality between them and their opponents, teams in the bottom half seemed content to shut up the proverbial shop and keep the score line as un-embarrassing as possible.
Conversely, almost anyone who had the temerity to turn up and try and out-play them seemed stuck in a mouse wheel, chasing sky-blue blurs about the pitch for 90 minutes and getting absolutely nowhere. They scored 4 or more goals on 13 separate occasions this season, 3 or more on 29. Twenty-nine.
Neutral fans across the country seemed split over the outcome of the rumbling, pulsating title race. On the one hand you had the disproportionately wealthy newcomers with relatively little history and relatively few real supporters; on the other, the revitalised former juggernaut of English football, without a league title in 30 years. It was tempting to see Liverpool lifting the trophy as the more emotionally evocative, and therefore more appealing, of the two potential outcomes. It was an understandable opinion, but by no means the only valid one…
Vincent Kompany was signed by the club a mere 18 days after the club’s takeover by Sheikh Mansour: the day when Manchester City became the Manchester City we know today. He’s been there for the entirety of this project. His staggering bolt from the blue in the 1-0 victory against Leicester in their penultimate fixture was like the clever sign performed by the protagonist in the blockbuster does right before they finish off the bad guy - it was City’s answer to their critics who said there would be no romance in their defence of the title.
Moments like these, along with the emergence of Phil Foden as one of English football’s most promising talents and Raheem Sterling as not only a world-class player, but a crusader for fairness and racial equality, ensured that, whoever topped the table on Sunday, we’d have seen a staggering title race between two equally staggering and praiseworthy teams.
Liverpool- Sesha Subramanian
Thirty wins. Only one loss all season. A squad made up of a Golden Glove winner, the Premier League’s best player this season, two of this year’s three Golden Boot winners, and a 20-year old who broke the record for assists from a defender among others. Ninety-seven points. And yet no Premier League trophy to show for it.
First off, congratulations to Manchester City on an absolutely incredible season in which they proved that they are the best team in the country despite being pushed till the very last day in their bid to defend the title. That they had to win around fifteen straight games to win the title by one point, which shows the resilience and ruthlessness they needed. And it is not like all those wins were straightforward either – the most telling example being the narrow 1-0 win over Leicester City on Monday night.
But coming back to Liverpool, this season, even though it has ended in disappointment, has been an amazing ride. Last year, we were twenty-five points behind City and had to wait till the last game against Brighton to qualify for the Champions League. This was, in my view, the first full season where we could be looked at as title contenders with a solid team from back to front. And we still have a chance to end it with a trophy come 1st of June by beating Tottenham in the Champions League final.
Along the way, I’ve seen some amazing moments on the field – the 5-1 win over Arsenal, defeating Manchester United 3-1 at Anfield, Daniel Sturridge’s twenty five yard screamer against Chelsea, Alisson’s one on one save against Jesse Lingard at Old Trafford, Divock Origi coming up big against both Everton and Newcastle just to name a few. And off the field, I have never seen a more united version of this club from the owners, the management, the directors, the coaching staff, the players and all the way down to the fans.
In the past, whether it was in 2008-09 or 2013-14, Liverpool’s title challenges have felt like one-offs and they have turned out to be one-offs. But this time, with this team, I believe that we can challenge Manchester City again. Obviously we will need to improve this team over the summer and add more depth to it (City calls on Riyad Mahrez from the bench and we call on Adam Lallana. Let’s face it - Lallana is good but not Mahrez good). But with most of the squad in their primes or entering their primes (the average age of this team is 26), it can only get better from here.
At the end of the day, City showed the cutting edge that perhaps we lacked and in a year of fine margins, maybe that was the difference. Maybe them digging in to beat Leicester City while we played it cautious against a half-hospitalised Manchester United at Old Trafford was the difference – I don’t know. But what we can do is learn from this experience and go again next year. After all, as basketball’s greatest player of all time Michael Jordan once said, “Before you succeed, you must learn to fail.” Maybe this was a rite of passage that was meant to happen.