The Premier League is a two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool

Horses, baby horses, even chihuahuas – the animal metaphors used to describe teams scrapping for the title this year have at times been both weird and wonderful. What is not in doubt is that this has been one of the most tightly contested Premier League seasons in recent memory, with the battle for the championship likely to go to the wire.

However, while the race for the title may appear to be wide open between the top four, history tells us that the prize is likely to be heading to one of two clubs: Manchester City or Liverpool.

Goals win games, and games win championships

For all the merits of Arsenal and Chelsea’s play this season, there can be no doubt that for pure entertainment, Manchester City and Liverpool have more often than not been the clubs to visit on a Saturday afternoon. Liverpool have scored more than 3 goals in a game a staggering 18 times this season, with Manchester City achieving the same feat 15 times.

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Between them, the sides have scored 168 goals in 62 games, and are home to the top four goal scorers in the league in Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero. Both have scored around 20 goals more than their nearest rivals in the league.

By contrast, both Chelsea and Arsenal have struggled for goals during different parts of the season, with both suffering from a lack of a threat up front. For Arsenal, that is largely a result of being overly reliant on the sole figure of Oliver Giroud up top, together with injuries suffered to key midfield contributors Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott, and the poor form of Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla.

Chelsea have boasted more options up front,and have scored six more goals than their London rivals, but each of their strikers has failed to put together a compelling run of goals throughout the season. By way of illustration, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have between them the more goals in the league than Eden Hazard, Samuel Eto’o, Oscar, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba have mustered between them.

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The team with the best goal difference normally wins the title

So far, so impressive – but why should this necessarily mean that Manchester City and Liverpool are now favourites for the title? Surely the team with the meanest defence (Chelsea) would also stand a good chance?

History says not. When we look back at the 18 Premier League seasons since the division was reduced to just 20 teams, in nearly 80% of campaigns, the team with the biggest goal difference has gone on to win the league title, and in 13 cases, the team that has scored the most goals has triumphed. That means for four out of every five Premier League seasons, the most prolific side has claimed the title. By contrast, in less than 50% of seasons has the team that has conceded the fewest goals won the title.

Looking at the league table as it stands today, the four sides may be separated by just 7 points, but looking at goal difference alone, Liverpool and Manchester City are way out in front, with Manchester City on 52, three goals ahead of current leaders Liverpool.

Two horse race

This analysis is not declarative – the sample size is smaller than one would ideally like, and there are examples where the most prolific sides have failed to win the biggest prize at the end of the season. But they appear to be the exceptions to the rule – the clear majority of title winning sides have been the most deadly in front of goal.

And the data also serves to underscore the anxiety felt by many Chelsea and Arsenal observers at the beginning of this season that their sides lacked the firepower to mount a sustained championship challenge this season. Come the end of the season, Jose Mourinho’s decision to loan out Romelu Lukaku may be questioned, as might Arsene Wenger’s inability, or refusal, to sign another striker in either transfer window of this season.

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For their part, Manchester City and Liverpool have given themselves the best chance of going all of the way this season by assembling sides and deploying tactics capable of, above all other things, scoring large numbers of goals.

As a result, the title race could well be decided when the two sides meet on 13th April at Anfield. While the result of that particular game remains difficult to call, one thing is almost certain – neither side is likely to keep a clean sheet.

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  1. […] the same, and that’s why Premier League clubs are so obsessed with signing forwards. More likely, it’s because they know that goals win titles, and, that they are extremely difficult to come by in regular […]

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