IT would be nice to say the forthcoming Premier League season is full of unpredictability and intrigue, but the truth is, it is going to the “same old, same old”, with Manchester City likely to win their fifth title in six years and Liverpool chasing them all the way. The romantics hope for something unexpected, a new Leicester story or two, but for 18 of the 20 Premier clubs, the league is about trying to claim places for Europe or staying out of the relegation zone.
The past five seasons have seen the Premier boil down to a two-horse race, with Liverpool largely filling the role of a pacemaker, apart from 2020 when they won their first Premier title. Jürgen Klopp’s side may never unseat City under Pep again, but they have something in their trophy cabinet that City feverishly covet, the UEFA Champions League. And yet when the history books are written about this period of bad taste and bling, City will be remembered for their achievements in the Premier and Liverpool will possibly be remembered for the Klopp factor and the way his reign in the dugout helped to rekindle the spirit of Anfield.
The gap between City and Liverpool and the rest of the Premier is growing by the season. Last season, the margin between second-placed Liverpool and third-placed Chelsea was 18 points, in 2019, the gap between second and third was 25 points. In these two seasons, the difference between City (champions both times) and Liverpool was one point. It is doubtful that any title-chasers have been so tightly matched so consistently. In the past, champions were chased hard, but very few times have we seen two teams go head-to-head so often with such a high level of proficiency. In the 1930s, when Arsenal ruled English football, the main challengers changed frequently, as they did during Liverpool’s golden period in the 1970s and 1980s. Arsenal and Manchester United were fierce rivals between 1997 and 2003 and in 1997-98 and 1998-99, were separated by a single point.
The Pep Guardiola- Jürgen Klopp dynamic makes the rivalry between their two clubs even more interesting. Both preside over “system teams”, squads designed to work within the framework constructed by their manager. Pep has his footballing ethos, Klopp is a disciple of the press. Others have tried to copy but these two clubs also have resources and are smart in the market. They have the best coaches, the best goalkeepers, the most options when it comes to scoring goals.
It is hard to see where an alternative Premier champion can be found. In the last four seasons, the records of the top club have been startling. The top three champions since the Premier began, in terms of victories in a season, have all been recorded since 2018 with 32 victories out of 38. That’s City in 2018 and 2019 and Liverpool in 2020, all winning 84% of their games. The average for the champion club in the Premier era has been 70%.
These teams also know how to score goals; in the very early 21st century, champions like Manchester United (2003), Arsenal (2004) and Chelsea (2005) had a goal-per-game rate of under two. City hold the Premier record with 2.79 in 2018 and their recent successes have above the champion average of 2.13 per game. Three times since 2018, City have enjoyed a goal difference of over 70 goals. City, as well as scoring prolifically at times, also keep their own goal relatively intact, although not as effectively as José Mourinho’s Chelsea of 2005 and 2006.
Over the past five years, including the 2022-23 season, Manchester City have spent £ 580 million on transfers, compared to Liverpool’s £ 405 million. City have been very active in player trading and have brought in £ 413 million in transfer sales. Their net spend has been £ 168 million in this period. Liverpool accrued £ 191 million in transfer sales, resulting in a net outlay of £ 212 million. City pay more than any other Premier League wages (as per 2020-21 financials), with their £ 323 million just £ 18 million higher than Liverpool’s wage bill.
The overwhelming strength in both clubs is clear to see and that’s why it will take something spectacular to knock either of them off their pedestal. The two-horse race resumes on August 5, the same contenders.