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.
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.