Do Liverpool now hold title advantage over Man City? Pep Guardiola doesn't think so

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Jamie Carragher has said it strengthens Liverpool’s chances if they go out of Europe, but that might not be the case.

There’s every chance that after nine months of twists and turns in the Premier League, the title race will actually be determined by matches elsewhere.

It’s perhaps the most difficult aspect to quantify when evaluating the respective chances of Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool - what impact will cup runs have on the various squads?

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It’s a real possibility that by this stage next week that Pep Guardiola’s side remain alive in three competitions but their rivals will have just the Premier League left to compete for. For Liverpool, that looks almost inevitable after a humbling night at Anfield on Thursday when Jurgen Klopp’s men were beaten 3-0 by Atalanta in the Europa League.

Liverpool should be among the favourites for Europe’s biggest prize, so crashing out of the second-tier tournament at the quarter-final stage should be viewed as a huge underachievement. Coupled with that disastrous afternoon at Old Trafford last month that saw the Reds dumped out of the FA Cup, and suddenly Klopp’s swansong season may not have such a rosy tinge after all.

As for Arsenal, anything other than a win next week at the Allianz Arena and Mikel Arteta’s side will be focusing on just one piece of silverware in the final six weeks of the campaign. Conversely, eliminating Bayern Munich might set up a Champions League showdown against City - a tie that could drain both teams mentality and physically, and hand Liverpool the advantage in the final furlongs.

That’s the hope of Jamie Carragher. “Awful result & performance from Liverpool, the only consolation about getting beat so heavily is Jurgen should play a full second string in the second leg & go all in for the league,” he wrote on X after Thursday’s capitulation.

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There’s logic to that argument and there’s no question that a congested fixture schedule for Pep Guardiola’s jaded stars could prove terminal for their trophy ambitions. The City boss has spoken of his squad’s fatigue recently and said he needed ‘fresh legs’ ahead of last week’s trip to Crystal Palace.

Rodri admitted after Tuesday’s pulsating draw in Madrid that he needs a rest, while it’s no coincidence that City’s squad has suffered from so many recent knocks and niggles. Kyle Walker, for instance, started 25 of the first 28 Premier League matches this season - how much that contributed to last month’s hamstring injury will never be proved, but the effect on City’s season could be devastating.

There is an alternative view though, one expressed by Guardiola last May as City vied for the treble. “The fact we are winning games and winning games - that helps a lot for regeneration. Maybe more than to eat, sleep and drink. It’s better to win games. That’s a better regeneration for the next game.”

It’s a opinion that Guardiola has expressed repeatedly during his time at City. He infamously said in the 2017/18 documentary: ‘We are tired? F**k you. You are not tired if you want to be champions.” The Catalan has also referenced that during his time in charge of Bayern, the team suffered three successive league defeats after Champions League elimination in 2015.

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“To be involved in the Champions League semi-finals – you are not tired. You do not feel any pain. That is a better position to be in, to be in the semi-finals,” Guardiola also said in 2019 when asked about Liverpool’s ultimately successful Champions League tilt, after City’s elimination by Tottenham Hotspur in the previous round. He was ultimately proved right as Liverpool won their final nine league matches, but still came up short.

It essentially boils down to a balancing act between momentum and fatigue, two things which are both prevalent in this current City team. A fully fit squad that feels mentally depleted is no good, while an effervescent but injury-ravaged team also won’t do.

Last season was the perfect combination as City remained mainly free of absentees during the run-in and were driven by the added motivation of a maiden Champions League and treble. Yet 2021/22 offers a different tale, as the Blues limped across the line to claim the title, with several high-profile injuries meaning Fernandinho played the last three league matches at centre-back. The diminished squad couldn’t sustain the pace in the cup competitions and City were dumped out of the Champions League and FA Cup semis by Real Madrid and Liverpool in lacklustre fashion.

What awaits City this time around will be decided in the next seven weeks, but one thing is for sure: There is no ideal fixture formula for Guardiola, Klopp and Arteta as the trio hunt down silverware.

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