March 19, 2019

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In a World of Fine Lines, Manchester City Tightens the Title Race

In a World of Fine Lines, Manchester City Tightens the Title Race
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More important, perhaps, City is not encumbered with the weight of history. It is not trying to win a championship for the first time in 29 years, trying to lift a curse, to escape the ghosts that Liverpool is trying to escape. As the denouement comes closer, Liverpool’s desperation will mount, mistakes will creep in, and points will slip away. City, the champion three times this decade, has no such reason to worry.

It is not, though, quite so simple as that. The next few months are as much a test of City’s nerve as Liverpool’s. No team came close to keeping pace with Guardiola’s team last year. It sauntered to the title, setting itself the vaguely artificial target of getting a century of points just to stay motivated.

This season represents a different sort of challenge, one in which City’s standards and its focus cannot slip, one in which it has a rival that has — so far, at least — been able to match its relentlessness. City has the head-to-head advantage, winning here and drawing in autumn at Liverpool’s Anfield. Narrow or not, it can regard itself as the better of the two teams.

That, though, is not what will decide the title. The crown will go to whichever of these two — or Tottenham, outsider though it may be — can maintain the fearsome pace both have set so far. More to the point, it will go to the team that does not blink first. There is less than the width of a line between Manchester City and Liverpool, between Guardiola and Klopp: a roll of the dice, a spin of the ball. One has the lead, the other has the impetus.

Who comes out on top when it matters, right at the end, will be whichever can thrive in a world of the finest lines, the most slender margins.

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