Soccer

Liverpool-Manchester City prediction: Who has Premier League title edge

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AP

Liverpool-Manchester City prediction: Who has Premier League title edge

The English Premier League season really begins Sunday. 

Though Manchester City is in fourth ahead of a visit to league-leading Liverpool FC at Anfield, the reigning champions' place in the table is merely a technicality. City and Liverpool are, full stop, the two best teams in the Premier League, just as they were last season. 

That's not meant to disrespect party-crashing Leicester City and Chelsea, who sit second and third after 2-0 wins Saturday. It's merely a reflection of the Premier League's reality. Liverpool accumulated more points last season (97) than any other team that failed to win the title, but the Reds picked up a UEFA Champions League crown for their troubles. The Cityzens, meanwhile, won a second straight title last season and both of England's domestic cups en route to the treble. 

Liverpool enters Sunday's match with a six-point lead over City and a chance to create real separation in the title race. City, on the other hand, can prove that the Premier League is far from a foregone conclusion. Here's why both teams can win -- and who will -- in Sunday's massive match.

Why Liverpool can win

Liverpool has been waiting for this. Yes, a sixth European title is more than a consolation prize, but the Reds have had more than enough close calls in their 30-year league title drought to make last season's second-place Premier League finish sting. Add the record point total to a list that already features Steven Gerrard's fall in 2014 and finishing as runners-up to arch-rival Manchester United in 2009. 

The timing is right for Liverpool to beat City and ultimately win the club's first Premier League title, considering how strong Jurgen Klopp's squad is. Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané form the Premier League's most prolific attacking group, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are the league's best fullbacks, Virgil van Djik is the best center back in the world -- you get the idea. 

Anfield also is a fortress. Liverpool has not lost a league match at home since April 23, 2017. Klopp also is 8-2-7 all-time against Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola in all competitions, surely replacing José Mourinho as the former FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich gaffer's biggest rival. 

Why Manchester City can win

Manchester City are the best team money can buy. Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne are singular talents to be sure, but the Cityzens' petroleum-fueled depth is what separates them from the rest of England -- and Europe, frankly. On any given week, (at least) one of the three most expensive right backs in the sport's history sits on the bench, and Guardiola's squad has the depth to contend, not just compete, on four fronts. 

The Cityzens arguably have played better than any other club this season. City have scored the Premier League's most goals (34) and easily generated the most expected goals (32.5), according to StatsBomb's data. For reference, Leicester beat Southampton 9-0 earlier this season ... and the Foxes are still three goals behind City in terms of goal difference. City's goal difference (plus-24) and expected-goals difference (plus-20.1) are far ahead of Liverpool's (plus-16 and plus-11.0, respectively).

The tide might be turning in the Guardiola-Klopp rivalry, too. City picked up four of a possible six points against Liverpool last season, and the draw Guardiola's side earned at Anfield arguably was the result the title hinged upon last season. If Liverpool wins that match, the title drought already is over.

[RELATED: Why Kerr admires Liverpool manager Klopp's passion, joy]

Prediction

Liverpool 1-2 Manchester City

Liverpool has a slight edge in form and will be boosted by Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson's absence, but the Reds' league results have been too close for comfort. Klopp's squad earned points from losing positions in each of their last three matches, winning two and losing one.

Of course, City had to do the same against 19th-place Southampton last week, proving that trap games do, indeed, exist across the pond. The Cityzens also haven't exactly been tested this season, drawing struggling Tottenham Hotspur in their one other match against a traditional "Big Six" club. 

But even that draw came in what arguably was the single most dominant display of the Premier League season, as City outshot Spurs 30-3. City's dominance has flown under the radar due to losses to Norwich City and Wolves, but a two-time defending champion losing focus -- and lacking luck -- against lower sides isn't a new phenomenon. 

City has been better than Liverpool this season, and that will bear out with a win Sunday at Anfield.

UEFA postpones Champions League, Europa League finals amid coronavirus

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AP

UEFA postpones Champions League, Europa League finals amid coronavirus

UEFA postponed the finals of its three biggest intercontinental club competitions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the organization announced Monday.

The men's and women's Champions League final and the Europa League final, all of which were scheduled for May, have been pushed back indefinitely. The European soccer governing body said in a statement that "[no] decision has yet been made on rearranged dates."

Twelve teams -- including the Premier League's Manchester City and Chelsea -- remain in contention for the men's Champions League with half of the Round of 16 completed, while the women's Champions League has not yet kicked off its quarter-finals. The Europa League, which Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United still are competing in, completed all but one of its first-leg fixtures from the Round of 16 before UEFA postponed all of last week's matches.

UEFA also announced last week that it was postponing the men's Euro 2020 to 2021 and rescheduling the women's tournament that originally was supposed to occur that year, in large part because of the coronavirus disrupting the calendars of club competitions across the continent. The Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1 and Serie A have all paused their seasons in an effort to halt COVID-19's spread.

Though Liverpool have the Premier League title all but wrapped up, spots in next season's Champions League and Europa League and the relegation places still need to be determined ahead of next season. UEFA's competitions this season affect the following campaign, too, as the Europa League winner automatically qualifies for the Champions League.

Beyond where and when the remaining matches this season are played (and who they're played in front of), all of the European leagues will need to address who is playing in said matches. The Premier League alone will have 69 players out of contract on June 30, according to ESPN's Ian Darke, and numerous others are set to have loan deals end at around that time. It's not yet clear if out-of-contract players would become free agents at that time.

European soccer, much like all of the world, still is navigating the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic. That undoubtedly will continue long after play resumes.

Premier League extends coronavirus shutdown until at least April 30

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AP

Premier League extends coronavirus shutdown until at least April 30

Soccer, like the rest of the sporting world, is on pause due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Last week, the Premier League announced it would be suspending games until April 4 due to the global pandemic. As expected, the time without the PL will last much longer as the league announced Thursday that "no professional game in England will be played prior to April 30." 

In a joint statement with FA, it was announced the rule stating the season must end by June 1 would be "extended indefinitely" for this season only. 

[RELATED: Oliver speaks for all Liverpool fans in coronavirus pause]

UEFA already has postponed EURO 2020 in order to create more room in the calendar for domestic and European club matches. 

The hope is that the PL can resume sometime after April, but much like the NBA and other sporting leagues, they just have to wait and see how the pandemic is dealt with.