With Tiger Woods falling out of contention and Sunday at Augusta turning into a sleepy 3-year-old crashing off of sugar, wake yourself up by flipping on probably the biggest game of the English Premier League season. Man City sits atop the table but only barely. Liverpool, still chasing a potential quad, are only one point behind Pep Guardiola’s team, and will take the pole position with a win and only six games left in the season.
It’s possible that each team could slip up over the last stretch of the schedule because the Premier League is a fickle beast. However, Liverpool only have one game left against a team in the top four (Tottenham), and the toughest matchups after that would be rivalry games against Manchester United and Everton, currently seventh and 17th respectively in the standings. (The only reason why Everton are mentioned at all is they’re Liverpool’s darby partner and the crazy double-donk stuff that happens in those games is soccer plinko.)
City’s toughest test remaining would be West Ham, who have been game all season and are capable of taking points off the defending EPL champs even if they did lose to them 2-1 earlier this season.
If you want some context for this quad that Liverpool are after, it’s the League Cup, the FA Cup, the Champions League, and the Premier League. They already have the League Cup, and taking all four of those in a season is like a tennis player sweeping the Grand Slams in a calendar year only if it was harder and had never been done before.
Looming over Sunday’s matchup is the FA Cup final between Liverpool and Man City six days after the game. For as great as City has been under Pep, Liverpool has earned more press and praise because Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk, and manager Jürgen Klopp are so damn lovable and capable, and they broke the Reds’ long EPL title drought the same year they won the Champions League.
City coming away victorious, or even drawing, Sunday and winning the FA Cup within the span of a week would only partially flip the narrative back to Man City. Guardiola coming through in the Champions League, the most noteworthy trophy he’s failed to hoist since arriving at the Etihad, on top of an FA and EPL title would be a satisfying achievement along the lines of San Antonio ending LeBron James’ tenure in Miami after coming so close the prior season. (Machine-like efficiency is something those teams also have in common.)
Kevin De Bruyne has accolades and individual awards every bit as pretty as those sky blue unis, and he’s probably the best player of Belgium’s golden age, but the ease with which he makes spectacular plays seems to fly under under the noise compared to his peers because his club and country teams haven’t come through on the continental or international stages. Regardless of what you think about the EPL’s lack of a postseason, there are no win-or-go-home fixtures.
Games played without safety nets are more likely to create legendary moments, which is why people remember Gareth Bale’s bicycle kick against Liverpool in the Champions League final, England’s PK flubs during the Euro final, and Luis Suarez’s handball chicanery in the World Cup more than Man City squeaking through a winner against the Reds in a Jan. 3 fixture during the 2018-19 season that helped them secure the title. The only reason I remember that game is I’m a Reds sympathizer. I also remember the streak Pep’s team went on late that year to put a bow on the Premier League title, but that’s hardly the case for casual fans who aren’t keyed into a Brighton-City game on the deciding day of the season.
There seems to be a certain unappreciated quality about City. I enjoy Phil Foden going to bat for his mum after she was harassed while out on the town as much as I enjoy his game. Raheem Sterling is always battling not-so-veiled racism from the English press because he loves to call them on their bullshit, which he should do, but the catch is they’re not going to write puff pieces that endear him to fans. He’s also not a landscape-altering player anymore if he ever was.
City are more respected than they are popular among American soccer fans I know despite them, not Liverpool, winning three of the past four EPL titles. So why do the Reds have the third most popular kit in the world and City only have the sixth? It probably has a lot to do with Liverpool’s storied history, larger fanbase as a result of that success, and Salah and Mane constantly leading the league in goals.
It also can be attributed to the glaring hole in City’s trophy case. We’ve seen Pep beat Klopp in the EPL when it mattered before, so a win Sunday is nothing new. If they want No.1 team on the planet type of recognition, they need an unassailable resume and the “Won the Champions League with honors” distinction is missing.
These two soccer behemoths could meet in that competition, as well. As interesting as it would be if they traded trophies like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer splitting Grand Slams at the peak of their rivalry, it’d be a public shaming if Liverpool repeatedly used City’s face as a foothold on the way to one of the greatest seasons in soccer history.
Lost in the hype over a potential quad, though, is City are in contention for a treble, which has only ever been done once and also is the closest an EPL team has ever come to winning a quad.
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