Party at Guardiola’s. Kazansky’s column is about the championship race in the Premier League

Liv­er­pool and Arse­nal lost. City are again in the lead. Denis Kazan­sky in his col­umn looks for­ward to the unpre­dictable fin­ish of the Eng­lish Cham­pi­onship.

On April 14, 1929, in one of the most beau­ti­ful places in Europe, the Prin­ci­pal­i­ty of Mona­co, all streets were blocked, stands and sand­bags were installed in case of big prob­lems.

On this day, the dream of tobac­co mag­nate Antho­ny Noguez came true. The first ever Grand Prix was held in Mona­co. 16 rid­ers com­pet­ed for a respectable 100 thou­sand francs. The first to com­plete one hun­dred laps of the race in four hours was Briton William Grover in a Bugat­ti. The rivals could not fit into the nar­row tra­jec­to­ries of the streets, they crashed and left the race. Only the Roman­ian Georges Buri­anu and the Ger­man Rudi Carac­ci­o­la in a Mer­cedes held on until the last, but small details at refu­el­ing cost them the race and first place. At the fin­ish line, the Briton was the first to see the check­ered flag, anoth­er inven­tion of Antho­ny Nogues, and took the title.

Exact­ly 95 years lat­er, the three-team foot­ball race in Eng­land has reached its pit stops. City crashed out of the “refu­el­ing and tire change” after the Euro­pean Cup. But the Arse­nal and Liv­er­pool mechan­ics made a mis­take and missed time. Now they have to catch up with the leader and swal­low the dust from under his wheels.

Mikel Arteta, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. The prob­a­bil­i­ty of Man­ches­ter City win­ning the Pre­mier League is 70 per­cent! Why don’t they believe in Arse­nal and Liv­er­pool?

By the time they entered their home sta­di­um, Arse­nal knew that City had rou­tine­ly beat­en Luton with a lit­tle yawn. The team from the Lon­don sub­urbs imme­di­ate­ly took off their hats, scor­ing into their own goal in the 2nd minute. Man­ches­ter’s Real Madrid on Wednes­day is a much big­ger deal than being a cham­pi­onship out­sider. “We need to be hap­py, there is no need to stress” — Pep Guardiola’s words could well have been like that before and after the match. 5:1 as a degree of plea­sure.

That’s okay. No news. But Arte­ta and com­pa­ny clear­ly did not expect that Liv­er­pool would lose at home to Crys­tal Palace. Well, no one expect­ed this. The slap in the face from Ata­lan­ta in the Europa League (0:3) was offen­sive and painful. But the Reds did not emerge from such a quag­mire. Remem­ber Barcelona.

Chang­ing the lens for a home match is some­thing Klopp knows how to do. Espe­cial­ly last dance* is approach­ing its bow, and I would like to win some­thing. We need to leave grace­ful­ly.

Pho­to by Reuters

There were hints of prob­lems in the game. Decem­ber 17 is the last day of the cur­rent sea­son when the vis­it­ing team did not score at Anfield. It was Man­ches­ter Unit­ed. Since then, Liv­er­pool have not seen a clean sheet. A huge num­ber of wast­ed chances are the sig­na­ture of Klop­p’s 2024 team. It all fell into one bas­ket and the Reds lost their sec­ond Pre­mier League game in front of a home crowd in sev­en years.

Defeat in foot­ball is a com­mon thing, it hap­pens, it nev­er hap­pens on time.

But here it’s just a blow. In a mat­ter of days, Liv­er­pool, lead­ing the race and aim­ing for a Euro­pean tro­phy, had lost every­thing. Before the start of the sea­son, it was dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that the Reds would be so high in the cham­pi­onship and claim the title. Klopp is get­ting the best out of this squad, per­haps too much. Liv­er­pool seem to be fac­ing real­i­ty. There are a lot of young faces, Nunez and Diaz are not Mane and Firmi­no, the bench options are not the same as Arse­nal and City.

All these prob­lems come to light in the most dif­fi­cult month of the foot­ball cal­en­dar — April. The denoue­ment in Europe and Eng­land, when there is no way to write in a draft.

Arte­ta under­stands this too.

Liv­er­pool and Arse­nal give the title to Guardi­o­la, Bay­er Lev­erkusen’s gold­en match, a Roma play­er’s heart attack

The dif­fi­cult game with Bay­ern (2:2) could have slight­ly derailed the focus on the home game with Aston Vil­la. Birm­ing­ham peo­ple also had Euro­pean adven­tures. “Lille” drank blood (2:1), and the goal they con­ced­ed at the end of the match is a hint of con­ti­nen­tal dif­fi­cul­ties.

The oppo­nent does not have the main pair­ing in the cen­ter of the field (Kama­ra and Dou­glas Louis) — it may feel like a walk in a shady park instead of a big game with the fourth team in the cham­pi­onship. More­over, Crys­tal Palace lift­ed the mood hours ear­li­er.

After the first half, there was hard­ly any doubt about Arse­nal’s vic­to­ry. The Gun­ners were very good. Per­haps the play­ers them­selves felt it. Let’s wait. Aston Vil­la? Yes, but we are Arse­nal.

But a pure class will not be enough in such a sit­u­a­tion. Arte­ta faces one of the tough­est man­agers in Europe. And the most evil.

Unai Emery was nev­er tak­en seri­ous­ly by top clubs. Look at the sit­u­a­tion now. Liv­er­pool is look­ing for a new coach, Bay­ern Munich and Barcelona are look­ing for a new coach, and Chelsea is a like­ly option. Is there a Spaniard on at least one list? No. He is always looked at as a coach of top-to-top teams. It can’t make you kinder, it can make you stronger. And then there’s Arse­nal. Emery has lost only one of his last sev­en match­es to the Gun­ners. He has his own scores to set­tle. Just like in Spar­tak once upon a time. He found him­self in this club alone with high expec­ta­tions and a lack of time and trust.

He kept his revenge in the freez­er. And served it pip­ing cold in the sec­ond half.

Pho­to by Reuters

A fair two goals in three min­utes knocked Arse­nal out. The spec­ta­tors did not believe that in stop­page time the Lon­don­ers, as they usu­al­ly do, would turn the game around, and the sta­di­um emp­tied before their eyes. It hurts.

Because every­one under­stands who they are deal­ing with.

Jamie Red­knapp, the Eng­lish pun­dit, vivid­ly por­trayed Guardi­o­la’s evening as if he were there him­self in Man­ches­ter: “He has just opened a bot­tle of good Span­ish red wine, tak­en out a cig­ar and is lis­ten­ing to Oasis**. He can’t believe it.”

City will not let go of theirs. So says his­to­ry. But foot­ball has its own vagaries. There are only 2 points between Guardi­o­la and the Arte­ta-Klopp pair­ing with 6 rounds left.

As if Pep doesn’t have enough wor­ries in the domes­tic cham­pi­onship, there’s also the FA Cup semi-final, plus Real Madrid. This is a blow to ener­gy and mood (depend­ing on which path they take). City will return to league games only on the 25th. Arse­nal will have played two match­es by this time (Wolver­hamp­ton and Chelsea). Liv­er­pool too (Ful­ham and Ever­ton). Imag­ine that both score six points — that’s the pres­sure of a pow­er­ful atmos­pher­ic col­umn. More­over, City have Spurs in the penul­ti­mate round! These are Guardi­o­la’s eter­nal prob­lems. Recent­ly there was a vic­to­ry in the Cup. But in the cham­pi­onship, Pep beat Tot­ten­ham in Lon­don… in the year of the World Cup in Rus­sia. From then on I suf­fered, for a long time, with­out even scor­ing a triv­ial goal.

Phil Foden celebrates his goal against Manchester United. Old Pep and the Lit­tle Prince. Col­umn Kazan­sky with a Man­ches­ter accent

The con­tenders, of course, in these six rounds will also have enough rea­sons for the pre-match reflec­tion “…or do I have the right?” Arse­nal will play in the red half of Man­ches­ter and away with their his­tor­i­cal rival Tot­ten­ham.

And for Liv­er­pool to go to Birm­ing­ham to vis­it Unai Emery is not at all like a fairy tale. This is also the penul­ti­mate day of the cham­pi­onship.

Could City lose points? Cer­tain­ly. Can Arse­nal and Liv­er­pool win all their remain­ing match­es? Here there are more doubts. But who could have pre­dict­ed that April 14th would become Pep’s par­ty day? What if this was the last rea­son?

The race has a leader. But there are still plen­ty of hair­pins and chi­canes to go before the check­ered flag. In Eng­lish foot­ball, as on the Monte Car­lo cir­cuit, the only thing you can be sure of is the unpre­dictabil­i­ty of the final.

* The Last Dance (Eng­lish).

** British rock band from Man­ches­ter.

Remaining matches of the three Premier League leaders