So here we are, the end of the 2018/19 season. The end of the Greatest Premier League Title Race Ever Seen. The end of this great tussle between the two great monoliths of English football. In the Blue corner we had domineering Manchester City, and in the Red we had plucky old Liverpool, and these 98 and 97-point teams provided us with untethered drama until the very end.
Except...did they? Did they really?
In a word: no. That's right, wipe your eyes, pinch your arm, look back at the hundreds of 'GOAT PL title race!!! *bicep emoji* *prayers emoji*' tweets sent out, review the current climate of hot-takeism and unbridled recency bias, and think...'Really? This is as good as it gets?'
Because it most certainly is not.
Sure, Liverpool being involved in a title race is always going to garner fevered attention because, well, there's a lot of Liverpool fans out there and they're not hesitant to show it, but this wasn't even better than the race of 2008/09, let alone that of 2011/12 (AGUUEEERRRROOOOO!!!), 1994/95 (Blackburn) or 1995/96 (Newcastle implosion).
And the reason for this is the exact reason that many are basing its GOATness on in the first place: both teams were exceptional. Too exceptional. For a title race to be enthralling, both teams need to show an inkling of fallibility in order for the final result to remain a mystery.
This was not the case in 2018/19. Liverpool were unblemished until they came up against City on 3rd January and failed to lose thereafter. City lost once, but attained maximum points from every other league game. This meant that game was effectively up when Liverpool drew four of the following eight games after that 2-1 defeat at the Etihad, the killer blow coming in that galegate of a stalemate with Everton. That was on 3rd March.
Since that date, City have known that the title was in their hands, and we thus knew that it was their hands that would lift it. And, in all-but-two games since January 29th (that anomalous defeat to Newcastle), we have known this with more than a third of the match left to be played, with the 63rd and 70-minute strikes against Burnley and Leicester the only winning goals scored after the hour mark.
- Best season of Pogba's career (in stats anyway)— 90min (@90min_Football) May 13, 2019
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All the best stats from the 2018/19 Premier League season! https://t.co/AghMzovUcw
And even then, there was little doubt, save for maybe the five minutes prior to Vincent Kompany's cartoonishly wondrous thunderstrike, that Pep Guardiola's side would win. It's what they've done for two seasons.
This meant that all the quote on quote 'lead changes' that have occurred since then were completely contrived by tv scheduling alone. Now, I don't begrudge Sky and other broadcasters their prerogative to drum up such drama - football is, at its modern core, a tv show that, just like any other, must manufacture and manipulate narratives so as to provide the most entertaining outcome - it's just that it was never delivered upon. The twist never came.
The sense of inevitability was too strong, because the gulf between them and the rest was so 'clear and obvious' that not even VAR could have intervened.
While Liverpool huffed and puffed and passioned their way to wins, City methodically, sometimes robotically, unlocked them with a pre-determined algorithm far more sophisticated than anyone else's, with an interface (...? I knew I shouldn't have gone down the technological route) and manpower far greater than any other, and this slight but defined imbalance bore out.
This meant Reds fans were forced to meekly [Ed's note: lol, Liverpool fans, meek] place their faith in such titans of the game as Ashley Barnes and Glenn Murray, showing said support with a semi-fun, semi-depressing, change of their Twitter avatars to drum up a narrative of their own that, ultimately, was even more farfetched than Kompany delivering the fatal blow.
This is not to disparage Jurgen Klopp's men. They played their part to near-perfection. But perfection is essentially now the benchmark which, looking to the future, sets a dangerous precedent.
Yes, Liverpool's achievements should not be ignored this season. But, while some will rejoice their 97-point exploits, and call on them for hope next season, how much hope can be gained from coming three points of the league's greatest ever points total and still losing?
Yes, Liverpool theoretically have the chance to get better this summer, but can they improve more than Manchester City can? Almost certainly not. If a side statistically greater than any of Manchester United's title-winning teams can't beat this City side, who can? And who will?
At the start of the season, almost everyone based outside of Merseyside thought Man City would retain their crown. And, despite a blip of a month or so, the proverbial cash-out on this punt stayed sizeable throughout.