Forget about Manchester City for a moment because, although hard to accept, the season has long been over. The only uncertainty that remains about the new Premier League kings is when Pep Guardiola's men will be crowned.
From now until the end of the season we are left with a fight for positions to be the best of the rest, and a decider on that front could take place at Old Trafford on Saturday (March 10).
Liverpool travel to Manchester United for the clash of the weekend, with Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham chomping at the heels of both teams while extending the gap to London rivals Chelsea in fifth. Manchester United can overtake Liverpool, currently second, on Monday evening with a win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
But while this will be considered a blockbuster fixture, there will be fears of a repeat of October’s drab goalless draw at Anfield. Manchester United registered just one shot on target that day, with many accusing Jose Mourinho of killing the contest. He, of course, disagreed. “I was waiting for them [Liverpool] to make an offensive change, to try more,” Mourinho said at the time. “But he [Jurgen Klopp] never did it. He was afraid of our counter-attack.”
Since Mourinho arrived at Old Trafford as manager, appointed in the summer of 2016 as Louis van Gaal’s successor, a classic titanic tussle against Liverpool has not materialized. Three games finished as three draws, with just two goals in 270 minutes of football and United registering five shots on target in four-and-a-half hours of football.
And it is unlikely to change this time round. Assuming United find their way past relegation-threatened Crystal Palace, they will be two points ahead of Liverpool. This is no fluffed up cushion on which to doze, but Mourinho will know his team cannot lose. With a trip to Manchester City still to come and hosting Arsenal at Old Trafford, there are still clear opportunities to drop points.
Liverpool’s run-in is far kinder. They face all three teams currently in the relegation zone while the only teams they are due to face in the top half of the table are Watford and Brighton, plus a trip to Stamford Bridge on the penultimate weekend. By then, Chelsea and Antonio Conte could be close behind Arsenal in terms of chaos.
Despite what recent history suggests, there will still be hope of a Premier League classic. Both teams have the tools on which to provide that. In Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, Liverpool have 35 Premier League goals this season. Over at United, the addition of Alexis Sanchez has suddenly bolstered Mourinho’s attack. The Chilean is part of a formidable frontline alongside Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.
Mourinho and Klopp will be unable to forget Manchester City’s dominance but they will know the importance of finishing the season strongly. Having a psychological edge over their rival, finishing as the best of the rest, will offer hope of competing against Pep Guardiola’s team next season. That need may be enough to create a tense but tepid, though. We can only hope now.