It turned out to be a weekend of missed chances for the two Manchester clubs. Liverpool’s first home loss of the season offered a glorious opportunity for Manchester United and Manchester City to close the gap on the Merseysiders, and in a fashion that has been typical of them this season, both failed to capitalise.
For now, City and United still have to surmount their two-point and four-point gaps to fourth place respectively. That chance might come as early as next weekend when Liverpool host Chelsea, but the Reds have been fairly good against the top clubs this season.
While Manchester United needed a late Wayne Rooney equaliser to come away with a point from Stoke, Manchester City’s best performance in quite a while yielded only a draw against high-flying Tottenham.
With 16 more games left to play, the Champions League race could come down to Liverpool’s implosion more than something inspiring from the two Manchester clubs.
The narrative at the start of the season centred on the recreation of the famous Jose Mourinho vs Pep Guardiola title race from Spain’s Clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona. But, the season has witnessed anything but. The Manchester clubs are fifth and sixth, as far as they can possibly be from the title picture.
Yet there is the hope that the season’s climax is served up by United and City battling for one Champions League slot: not the ideal place where both clubs want to be, but the inkling of drama involved in such a situation is what the Premier League wants.
Or, maybe, they could both make it into the top four. Liverpool’s wretched 2017 continued at Anfield when they lost 3-2 to Swansea, who had been bottom of the table at kick off. The Reds have now dropped seven out of the last nine points available, a run that could worsen if they drop points to Chelsea.
17 – Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League run at Anfield has ended after 17 matches (W11 D6). Stop.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 21, 2017
There are chances of Liverpool dropping more points when they host Spurs ten days after the Chelsea game. A failure to regain their early season form could see Liverpool concede more ground to the Manchester clubs.
Despite the negativity, the season is still young for the Manchester clubs with various avenues for lifting silverware still open. United are among the favourites to win the FA Cup, the EFL Cup, and the Europa League as well. City, likewise, have the FA Cup and the Champions League, where they made the semi-finals last season.
Liverpool are imploding, which opens a window of opportunity for the Manchester clubs. Much as it feels the season is all but over for them, there is still a lot to play for both clubs. That also entails watching their backs.
Everton in seventh are only five points behind United and are on a great run of form. The Toffees haven’t lost in the league since their Merseyside derby defeat in December and recently humbled City 4-0. While it is unlikely they will usurp the Manchester clubs, Everton’s positive development under Ronald Koeman at least keeps United and City on their toes.
Although there still are lots of tangible rewards for both United and City to play for, it is the qualification for the Champions League that acts as a measure of success these days. After all, the best players play in the Champions League, so do the best teams.
For them to make anything out of this season, in addition to winning their way until the end, they need Liverpool to slip-up, and Everton to not crank up the pressure from behind.