Liverpool’s defeat at Leicester handed a huge advantage to defending champions Manchester City, who could open up a 12-point advantage at the Premier League summit before Jurgen Klopp’s side play Chelsea on Sunday.
Here, the PA news agency looks at how an apparent three-way title fight could become a one-horse race by early January.
Pep Guardiola’s team are looking invincible at the moment. They have won nine in a row in the Premier League and are scoring goals for fun, with 17 put past Leeds, Newcastle and Leicester in the space of 13 days. Not only has that helped them turn a one-point lead into a six-point gap at the top, but they have have turned a nine-goal goal difference deficit to the previously high-scoring Liverpool’s into a four-goal advantage over the course of those three matches. They only lose Riyad Mahrez to the Africa Cup of Nations but Raheem Sterling’s return to goalscoring form (eight in his last 10) should more than compensate. Wins over Brentford and Arsenal before their two main rivals face each other at Stamford Bridge would start to make a fifth title in six years feel inevitable even this early stage.
December has traditionally been a strong month for Klopp’s side – they had not lost a league match in the month for five years – but dropping five points in their last two matches has handed the initiative to City. Historically the first month of the new year has not been kind to Liverpool in recent times and the concern in the red half of Merseyside now is that January poses significant issues with the Premier League’s leading scorer Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita all heading to the Africa Cup of Nations. Of the five previous Januarys Klopp has been in charge of the club, only twice have his side accrued more than 50 per cent of the points on offer. Most of the goalscoring burden will fall on Diogo Jota – the league’s second-highest scorer with 10 – but the likes of Roberto Firmino, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi are going to have to take up the slack while the defence (one clean sheet in the last four) will also have to tighten up to lessen the pressure up front.
Thomas Tuchel’s side started December top of the Premier League by a point from City, with a goal difference six better, and two points ahead of Liverpool. Everything looked set for an epic three-way tussle at the top. Fast-forward five matches and Chelsea are third, albeit on goal difference, six points behind the leaders and have a goal difference now nine worse. Defeat to West Ham and draws with Brentford and Wolves have been damaging and they will lose goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and midfielder Hakim Ziyech to the Africa Cup of Nations. January’s fixtures have not been kind to the Blues as they face both their title rivals and an improving Tottenham. However, on the plus side, striker Romelu Lukaku showed he is back to form with a substitute cameo to inspire a Boxing Day win against Aston Villa and will offer a solution to their frustrations up front.
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