As the Premier League title race hots up, Gary Neville has been discussing the possible permutations for title contenders Liverpool and Man City, while dismissing Spurs chances of mounting a late charge.
Manchester City‘s shock 2-1 defeat to Newcastle in midweek opened up the possibility of Liverpool opening up a seven point advantage at the top of the Premier League table, but Jurgen Klopp’s men were in turn held to a 1-1 draw at home to Leicester City to keep the gap to just five, with the Merseyside side showing a few signs of nerves.
However, City’s comfortable 3-1 win over Arsenal on Sunday has cut the gap at the top to just two, ramping up the pressure on leaders Liverpool who face a tough trip to face West Ham at the London Stadium this evening, in what could be a real test of their title credentials.
Speaking about the Premier League title race, eight time title winner Gary Neville reckons that while Pep Guardiola’s side are still the favourites, they could be their own worst enemy.
“It was a bizarre first half [during Man City’s win against Arsenal] in the sense that Man City could have been two, three or four up at any point. There was a clear gulf in quality between the two teams but Arsenal got a goal from a set piece and for the next 25 minutes, it threw City a little bit,” the former Manchester United and England full-back said on the Gary Neville Podcast.
“They are having these periods in games where they starting drifting, the tempo drops, they’re walking on the ball and they’re just letting teams believe they are in the game and giving them a bit of encouragement but the minute that they step it up a bit and add that little bit of quality that they’ve got, they can pull away again.
City’s big danger
“The biggest risk for Man City is that they are clearly better than every team in the league, apart from maybe Liverpool, where it is close. It’s whether they can maintain that level of intensity or whether they are going to get caught out because of that little lack of concentration or focus or complacency or not doing the right things all the time – you can just sometimes slip up. That’s the biggest danger to City, I feel.
“Things are not going all their way like they did last year so they have to be aware of that. It may just be that they are waiting for the moment to come where there is something on every game and then the alertness is there, the concentration is there and the little periods in games that we’re seeing where they’re dropping off a bit go away.
“When we [Manchester United] were winning back-to-back titles, we did have periods in the season like this where we dropped points or we weren’t quite at it or even periods in games. Sir Alex Ferguson used to say ‘you’re bored, you lot. I can’t wait until March or April when the games come alive again’. That’s a little bit of what we’re seeing with City. The danger is that sometimes you get bored, you’re too far behind and you can’t catch up.
“I think it was really helpful that Liverpool dropped points on Wednesday night – seeing Liverpool all at sea at the back and Leicester creating chances. Today, Liverpool watching that [Man City’s game], in the first half, would have thought ‘City aren’t quite at it’ and would have got encouragement from it.
“As much as players and managers say they are concentrating on their own game and don’t think about what other teams do – it’s rubbish. It does have an impact. If the other team are dropping points, scraping through games or not looking solid, you gain encouragement from that. In the second half today, as a Liverpool player, I would have switched off.
“Liverpool have got a big job tomorrow night now. Man City are within two points and they have a lot of experience in this squad of winning titles. Aguero looked good today and if he can stay fit towards the end of the season, you just feel like he would grow into it, as will Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva so I think City are very dangerous for this Liverpool team.
“I think two points or five points, whatever it will be tomorrow night after the end of the game, won’t be a gap worth shouting about at all. We’ve got a great three months to look forward to and at this moment in time, the only danger to Man City is City themselves, I think, because if City are neck-and-neck with three or four games to go, I think they will win it. They will really have the maturity to come through whereas Liverpool will need that three or four points gap.
“I woke up this morning to people saying Tottenham are title contenders again and I don’t think they are. I think if City had played yesterday, Liverpool had played today and Tottenham were on Monday Night Football, I don’t think we would even be talking about Tottenham as title contenders because Liverpool and City would be many points in front.
“I always think with Tottenham, they’ll keep getting close and then dropping back again – I don’t think they’ve quite got it. They’ve not got quite as good a team as City and Liverpool and there is no one who would like to see them win the league more than me this season… It would represent an incredible job done by Pochettino over the last three or four years [if they won the Premier League], it would be amazing because he almost deserves it in some ways, but I just feel like they’re not going to win it and they’re going to fall short.
“I’d expect them to beat Watford and Newcastle because they’re a good side, but they’re not going to have the squad depth or the quality to be able to compete with City and Liverpool. That is not a criticism and I know Tottenham fans have been disappointed in the last few weeks and I’ve dismissed them for the title because they are so close. I hope they win it, but I don’t think they will.”