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Liverpool must face truth about Man City difference after Brendan Rodgers mistake cost them

By Theo Squires

Liverpool might have regained top spot in the Premier League table by drawing with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday night and then again by beating Aston Villa on Tuesday night, but they were resigned to their stay being a brief one.

They were resigned to Man City bouncing back from their Champions League exit to Real Madrid by beating Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers to leapfrog the Reds. And, with their goal difference only one better than Pep Guardiola ’s men after facing Spurs, were resigned to the reigning champions cancelling out the very advantage that had seen them temporarily snatch top spot.

The fact that City went on to thrash the Magpies 5-0 at the Etihad and Wolves 5-1 at Molineux to establish a three-point lead at the top of the table, while also building a seven-goal advantage over the Reds on goal difference, was only rubbing salt in the wounds. With two games of the season remaining and Liverpool ’s FA Cup final clash with Chelsea on Saturday meaning they don’t play again in the league until Tuesday, it could be all but over when they make the long journey to Southampton for their penultimate Premier League fixture.

READ MORE: Kevin de Bruyne makes 'crazy' Liverpool claim after Man City beat Wolves

READ MORE: Liverpool striker left watching Champions League parade on TV after being forced to miss team flight

Of course, it’s not over yet. City travel to a West Ham side looking to leapfrog Manchester United in sixth place on Sunday, with the Hammers trailing the Red Devils by three points but boasting a game in hand and superior goal difference as they look to qualify for the Europa League at the North West giant’s expense next season.

Meanwhile, former Everton and Manchester United boss David Moyes’ side did beat Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Chelsea at the London Stadium in the first half of the season, as well as Man City on penalties and Manchester United at Old Trafford in the League Cup. They then defeated the likes of Sevilla and Lyon in the Europa League as Europe became their priority, but a strong Premier League finish is now their main focus after a semi-final exit.

Should City beat West Ham on Sunday, they would move six points clear of Liverpool and leave the Reds knowing it will take maximum points and an almighty swing in goal difference in their final two outings against Southampton and Wolves if they are to stand any chance of toppling the reigning champions. And such a scenario would still require Guardiola’s men to lose to Steven Gerrard ’s Aston Villa, containing Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings on the final day for Jurgen Klopp ’s side to be crowned champions.

Realistically if Man City beat West Ham, they will essentially have already done enough to win the league, even if it is not officially confirmed until the final day of the season, thanks to the superior goal difference they have accumulated courtesy of those two hefty wins over Newcastle and Wolves.

Yet there is a small glimmer of hope left for Liverpool, beyond being desperate for favours from old friends and foes. In Southampton and Wolves, they face two sides right at the very bottom of the Premier League form table with only relegated Norwich City and Watford faring any worse over the past 10 games.

Southampton have won just one of their past 10 Premier League matches, picking up just five points along the way, while their total of 61 goals conceded is the worst in the top-flight outside of the bottom three. Meanwhile, Wolves have won only three of their last 12 matches, picking up 10 points, and have the third worst-attack in the league. In other words, they’re two pretty good sides for the Reds to be facing as they look to bolster their goal difference.

And that’s without taking into account the fact that the Saints are a side who have lost 9-0 in each of the past two seasons.

However, while Liverpool might be tempted to go gung-ho in their efforts to rack up their goal difference in their final two league fixtures, aware that the possibility of Man City dropping points in both their remaining matches is even slimmer than them losing only one, they have to be conscious of one mistake that cost them dear in title-race only a few years ago.

When the Reds beat Man City 3-2 in April 2014, Brendan Rodgers ' side sat two points clear at the top of the table and seven clear of Manuel Pellegrini's men, who boasted two games in hand and a superior goal difference, as they took a giant stride towards what looked like being a maiden Premier League title win and Steven Gerrard exclaimed, “This does not f****** slip now!”

The following week a 3-2 win at Norwich City saw them extend their lead to five points over Chelsea and nine over City, who still boasted two games in hand. But then it all came crashing down.

As a Gerrard slip against Chelsea gifted Jose Mourinho’s side a 2-0 win over Liverpool, City capitalised by winning their games in hand, with a 3-2 victory away at Everton taking them level with the Reds on 80 points with two games remaining but boasting a far superior goal difference of +59 compared to +50.

Rodgers’ men looked to reclaim top spot when they travelled to Crystal Palace for their penultimate fixture on May 5, and memorably stormed into a 3-0 lead as they looked to claw back some of City’s superior goal difference. But rather than deliver more goals or stick with what they had, they infamously suffered the most costly of collapses as three goals in the final 11 minutes saw the Eagles clinch a 3-3 draw.

Liverpool would move back top of the table that night, leading Man City by a solitary point, but they had blown it when it came to winning the title. Their tears on the pitch at full-time showed exactly that as Rodgers conceded the title in his post-match interview.

“We needed to win tonight. Man City have two home games and we needed to win tonight to keep the pressure on," he admitted. "I think City will go on and win their two games now. They will be champions. But for us it’s been an outstanding achievement until now. We’ll keep looking to build.

“It's hugely disappointing. For 78 minutes we were outstanding, did everything we'd wanted to do, looked solid defensively and didn't have many scares. We had control of the ball and had three goals. But we got carried away, thought we could have more, and lost our defensive structure. To have conceded three was disappointing given the work we'd put in to go 3-0 up.

“We said at half-time the most important thing was to win the game. We started well, then lost our shape a bit in the first half because of that. We thought we could play ‘Roy of the Rovers’ football and make the goal difference up. But tonight was about winning the game. When we had the structure and discipline to our game, we scored goals and created chances. But we didn't manage the game.

“At 3-0 we gave them a sniff, and they have some good players who can punish you. This is something we'll improve on for next season. We got better this season from last season, and we need to get better again next year. We know we need to be better in that area. We've improved a lot in many aspects of our game.

"That'll be an area people will look at, and nobody more than myself. But tonight was just about dealing with the situation, with 12 minutes to go and you need that calmness and control to see the game through, and we didn't manage it. The players were so good up to that point.”

With City again boasting a game in hand, it was in their hands and a 4-0 victory over Aston Villa on May 7 saw them lead the table by two points with a goal difference of +63 (13 goals better than the trailing Reds). Had Rodgers’ side beaten Palace, City would have only led on goal difference heading into the final day with the pressure well and truly still on. It would not have been inconceivable that Pellegrini’s side would have baulked as a result and dropped points or Liverpool could have even recorded a big enough goal-swing to come out on top.

Instead, the league-leaders only needed to avoid defeat on the last day to be crowned champions. The Reds were never going to win by 13 goals against Newcastle United after all.

In the end, Liverpool came from behind to win 2-1 at home to the Magpies while City won 2-0 at home to West Ham to clinch the title. Boasting a two-point lead over the runners-up, their final goal difference stood at +65 compared to the Reds’ +51. They never stood a chance.

Now Klopp’s men prepare for their final two matches of the 2021/22 season trailing by three points and with a goal difference of +65 compared to City’s +72. While it might be tempting to try and claw some of that back in case they did finish the season level on points, it’s far more important just to win their games.

If they’re breathing down Guardiola’s men’s necks, there’s always the possibility of a slip-up under the pressure, as the Reds themselves were inflicted to back in 2014. But if they try to think one step ahead and gamble on a goal difference off-chance, they risk falling even further behind and wiping out any slim chance left and the remaining pressure completely.

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