They are separated by a single point heading into the final day of the one of the most thrilling title races that English soccer has witnessed. Both Manchester City and Liverpool would be deserved winners of this season's Premier League title but only one team will be lifting the trophy at about 5 p.m. on Sunday.
The players of the runners-up will likely sit disconsolately in their locker room and wonder, with some justification, what more it could have done. City holds all the aces, knowing a win at Brighton on the south coast is guaranteed to secure a fourth league title in eight seasons, a sixth in total and — for the first time — two in a row.
Brighton is in fourth-to-last place, is safe from relegation, is without a win since March 9, and has scored only twice in its last nine games. City, meanwhile, is seeking a 14th straight league win to finish the season and to secure the second trophy — after the English League Cup, won in February — in its bid to become the first team to win all three domestic trophies in a single English season.
The FA Cup against Watford is on May 19. "We have two games to win two titles or to lose two titles," City manager Pep Guardiola said. "We are going to go to Brighton and attack them and attack them and attack them to be champions."
Liverpool, which hosts Wolverhampton Wanderers, faces the prospect of finishing with 97 points — more than any other team has collected in Premier League history, save for last year's City side (100) — and still not winning the title.
How cruel that would be for a club so desperate to end a 29-year wait for its 19th league trophy. The Reds have lost only one league game this season, a 2-1 defeat at City on Jan. 3. That could ultimately cost them the title, a century of points, and joining Arsenal's so-called "Invincibles" of 2003-04 in going a full league campaign unbeaten.
"If we are champions, then we are champions," Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said. "You can't feel pressure when you do your best." Premier League run-ins can sometimes spark mind games and catty comments between rival managers, but not this one. Klopp and Guardiola appreciate the other's teams, even thank them for pushing their own players to previously unseen limits.
Guardiola labeled Liverpool's class of 2018-19 as one of the two best teams he has faced as a manager, along with the Barcelona team from 2015 when he was coach at Bayern Munich. Klopp has said for a couple of seasons now that City is "the best team in the world."
There will of course be regrets, whatever happens. Liverpool's biggest end-of-round lead was seven points at the end of December, and the team could have gone 10 points clear by beating City in early January. There were also the four draws in six games from Jan. 30-March 3 which allowed City to regain control of the title race.
Still, Klopp's players have done little wrong and a win over Wolves would be their ninth straight since drawing against Merseyside neighbor Everton on March 3. While Liverpool has often relied on late goals to sustain its title charge, City's finish to the season has been more routine, more ruthless. The champions have never been behind in their 13-match winning run that began with a 3-1 win over Arsenal on Feb. 3, conceding only two goals since then.
The tension has ratcheted up in recent weeks, though, as City hung on nervously to beat Tottenham 1-0 on April 20 and Burnley on April 28. Then, on Monday, Guardiola's team appeared to be running out of ideas against Leicester when long-serving captain Vincent Kompany unexpectedly smashed a swerving 25-meter strike into the top corner to seal a 1-0 win.
Someone — whether it is Phil Foden (against Tottenham), Sergio Aguero (against Burnley) or Kompany (against Leicester) — has stepped up when City most needed them over the past month. Will there be another hero on Sunday? Or is this finally Liverpool's time?
GOLDEN BOOT Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah is on course to win the Golden Boot as the Premier League's top scorer for a second straight year but there are three players with a realistic chance of beating him to the prize on the final weekend.
Salah has 22 goals for the season — 10 fewer than his total from last year — and he will get a chance to add more against Wolves if he recovers from a concussion sustained against Newcastle last weekend that ruled him out of the 4-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Aguero, Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Salah's teammate, Sadio Mane, all have 20 goals. Aubameyang's last game is at Burnley. Fifth in the scoring chart is Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, but he needs four goals to simply draw level with Salah's current haul ahead of a home match against Chelsea.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80