London, May 12: Manchester City and Liverpool have together redefined what was thought to be possible in a two-way race for the Premier League title this season.
Generally, hauls in excess of 90 points mean a dominant side cantering alone to glory, comfortably clear of the chasing pack.
But Liverpool's 97 points this time around is at once the third best in English top-flight history and only good enough for second place.
It is also the most points ever acquired by any team other than Pep Guardiola's City, who are the first side to retain the Premier League since Manchester United a decade ago.
Here's how they backed up last season's 100-point haul with a formidable challenger matching them step for step.
Flying out of the blocks
In a record-breaking title race, there is no time for sluggish starts. Liverpool swatted aside West Ham 4-0 in their Anfield opener, with Mohamed Salah picking up where he left off in 2017-18 and Sadio Mane bagging a brace. Later the same day, City saw off Arsenal 2-0 thanks to Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva – men who would go on to be stars of their campaign.
City and Liverpool each won six of their first seven matches, the only blemishes being respective 1-1 draws at Wolves and Chelsea. A home Champions League loss to Lyon for Guardiola's men and the Reds' European defeat at Napoli suggested frailties domestic foes were largely unable to locate. The sides were all square heading into their October meeting on Merseyside.
WHHHHHAAAAATTTTTTT A GGOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!! pic.twitter.com/kEiroDNCJI— Liverpool FC (@LFC) 29 September 2018
Mahrez fluffs his lines
Perhaps the person to thank above any other for such a close-run title race is Riyad Mahrez. In a rare blot on his PFA Players' Player of the Year campaign, Virgil van Dijk brought down Leroy Sane to hand City's record signing the chance to secure his club's first win at Anfield since 2003.
Mahrez promptly smashed his 85th-minute penalty over the crossbar and the deadlock remained intact in an encounter at odds with the goal-laden matches Klopp and Guardiola presided over last season. Both men declared themselves satisfied with the 0-0 draw, although – from a City point-of-view – Mahrez's miss was one to increasingly rue as the Premier League battle remained on a knife edge.
58 - Among players to have taken at least 10 penalties in the Premier League, only Juan Pablo Angel (50%, 5/10) has a lower success rate than Riyad Mahrez (58%, 7/12). Fluffed. pic.twitter.com/SKbNurWsQD— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) 7 October 2018
City's December blues
Having cancelled one another out, the top-flight frontrunners continued to rack up wins. City's seven in succession post-Anfield meant they headed into the second weekend of December with a two-point lead – Liverpool having shared a 1-1 draw at Arsenal a month earlier.
Chelsea were penned back relentlessly at Stamford Bridge until N'Golo Kante beat Ederson on the stroke of half-time. David Luiz completed a 2-0 win for Maurizio Sarri's side and, despite bouncing back by beating Everton 3-1, shock back-to-back reverses against Crystal Palace and Leicester City meant City had lost three out of four.
"it's fine" pic.twitter.com/JDJikLIRks— Manchester City (@ManCity) 3 January 2019
Fine margins at the Etihad
The upshot was a must-win assignment as the reigning champions hosted Liverpool on January 3 nursing a seven-point deficit. John Stones did what he could to redefine last-ditch clearances, hacking a looping ball out of City's goalmouth with 11 millimetres to spare, while Vincent Kompany was arguably lucky only to be booked for a robust challenge on Salah.
If that was evidence of City riding their luck, they cashed it in with a stirring performance that bristled with intensity. Sergio Aguero lashed a brilliant finish into the roof of the net five minutes before half-time and, after Roberto Firmino's wonderfully worked 64th-minute leveller, Sterling laid on Sane to rattle home the winner via the base of Alisson's far post. The race was on.
"So, basically, they thought they were gonna go seven points ahead..."
City appeared to have undone their good work by sleepwalking to a 2-1 defeat at Newcastle United on January 29. However, a day later, Liverpool failed to capitalise as Harry Maguire cancelled out Mane's opener to give Leicester City a 1-1 draw on Merseyside and Kyle Walker a reason to briefly reprise a popular World Cup meme.
That was the first of four draws in six games for Klopp's side – a significant and decisive slump in the context of an unprecedented season.
The long sprint to the finish
A 0-0 draw in the derby against Everton at Goodison Park concluded Liverpool's relative blip and they did not drop another point all season. City had no margin for error after losing at Newcastle, so did not make any – winning their final 14 league games.
Such flawless runs meant tension and high stakes – not least when Liverpool edged a five-goal thriller at Newcastle before City needed an unlikely Kompany thunderbolt to prevail against Leicester City in the penultimate matchweek. But those title-race staples of twists and turns were nowhere to be seen as two phenomenal teams skirted close to perfection.