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The numbers: Man City, Liverpool best of brilliant era (City the best ever?)

Joe Prince-Wright, Andy Edwards and Nick Mendola dive into Sunday's potential title decider at the Etihad between Manchester City and Liverpool.

Manchester City put Sporting Lisbon out of the UEFA Champions League, basically in the 5-0 first leg and formally with a 69 percent possession performance in a 0-0 draw on Thursday at the Etihad Stadium.

There were still plenty of things to notice from City’s quarterfinal berth-clinching day, not the least of which was 19-year-old right back CJ Egan-Riley making his UCL debut by completing 58-of-60 passes on a 75-touch day.

[ MORE: Real Madrid, Man City take different routes to UCL quarters ]

City’s making it look easy lately, highlighting another incredible season with a Manchester derby trouncing of Manchester United that might’ve been better described as a cakewalk as the second-half saw the Citizens basically waltz around the room with 79 percent possession and a 14-0 edge in shots.

And while United is nowhere near its historical standards and Sporting Lisbon down 5-0 after one leg, it’s tempting to sleep on the fact that these are two of the best teams in the world: Champions League knockout round entrants (albeit one of these results coming in the Premier League).

But don’t. And while you’re doing the non-sleepy stuff, save a thought for Liverpool fans. No, not because they are yelling on social media about the world writing off their Reds, but because they may well be the second-best team in Europe, not just England, and may be deprived of a half-dozen pieces of silverware by the time Pep Guardiola is done running an absolute Manchester masterclass.

One of the best ever beating one of the era’s best

Jurgen Klopp’s first partial year and Man City’s last prep-Pep Guardiola year was the 2015-16 Premier League season. The top two teams in fewest shots conceded were Man City (8.9) and Liverpool (10.5). Decent numbers.

The possession leader was Arsenal at 56.9 percent and the best passing team was Arsenal at 84.2%. Shots on target leaders Tottenham put 6.6 on the keeper or behind him per PL match.

You can comb through numbers a few more seasons and then put each season’s top teams in a list. Most of those seasons don’t come close to what Liverpool and Man City have done every year since Guardiola took over City the same year Klopp got his first full season with the Reds.

Look back at the headline of this section: That’s a good way to sum up the Man City and Liverpool rivalry, especially since both rich clubs settled into the brilliant managers’ systems in a way that few do.

In an era without City, Liverpool might be considered one of the best possession teams of all-time. Liverpool’s 63 percent grasp of the ball this season is fifth in Europe, behind Man City, Barcelona, PSG, and Bayern Munich.

And before people shout out: BUT MAN CITY HASN’T WON THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE AND LIVERPOOL HAS, please remember that the European Cup -- while incredible -- requires a bit more luck over a significantly smaller sample size to bring home. Hanging hats on those big ears -- as Real and sometimes Liverpool do -- is fine but not comparable to winning the PL in this era of domestic spending (And we’ll say the same if City wins it all this year).

Consider the following statistical dominance:

Best possession seasons in Premier League, 2016-present

This is Pep Guardiola’s sixth season in charge of Man City. Six of the seven best possession seasons on record since he took the helm are his. The other is Liverpool’s current mark, and the Reds have four of the best PL possession seasons ever in the same time span.

Man City (2021-22): 68
Man City (2017-18): 66.4
Man City (2018-19): 64
Liverpool (2021-22): 63
Man City (2019-20): 62.6
Man City (2020-21): 60.8
Man City (2016-17): 60.9
Chelsea (2018-19): 59.9
Liverpool (2019-20): 59.6
Chelsea (2021-22): 59.2
Liverpool (2020-21): 59
Liverpool (2018-19): 58.8

Best passing seasons in Premier League, 2016-present

This one shows Guardiola slacking a little bit. Only 10 teams have passed the ball at 85.5 percent or better since he took the reins. His teams are 1-5, and 10.

Man City (2021-22): 90
Man City (2020-21): 89.4
Man City (2019-20): 89.3
Man City (2018-19): 89
Man City (2017-18): 89
Chelsea (2018-19): 87.6
Chelsea (2020-21): 87
Chelsea (2021-22): 86
Liverpool (2020-21): 85.7
Man City (2016-17): 85.5

Best shots on target seasons in Premier League, 2016-present

Anyone can rip a shot from distance, but who scores or challenges the keeper the most?

Liverpool is on pace to test keepers more often than any team in recent history, breaking City’s four-season run atop the table. Their 7.3 shots on target per game this season would look insane... if not for City sitting beneath them.

Liverpool (2021-22): 7.3
Man City (2019-20): 7
Man City (2017-18): 7
Man City (2021-22): 6.9
Man City (2018-19): 6.8
Tottenham (2016-17): 6.8
Arsenal (2017-18): 6.2
Liverpool (2016-17): 6.2
Liverpool (2019-20): 6.1
Liverpool (2017-18): 6.1
Liverpool (2018-19): 5.9
Man United (2018-19): 5.9
Man City (2020-21): 5.7
Man City (2016-17): 5.7
Liverpool (2020-21): 5.6
Man United (2020-21): 5.6

Fewest shots allowed per game in Premier League season, 2016-present

As teams don’t have the ball and thus can only hope to counter, it likely won’t be a surprise than the possession heavy Citizens and Reds live near the top of the recent history books in fewest shots per game, but given Antonio Conte’s Chelsea and some others, surely these numbers will still raise some eyebrows.

Man City (2017-18): 6.2
Man City (2018-19): 6.3
Man City (2021-22): 6.5
Man City (2020-21): 7.4
Man City (2019-20): 7.4
Liverpool (2017-18): 7.4
Man City (2016-17): 7.9
Liverpool (2018-19): 8.1
Liverpool (2021-22): 8.2
Liverpool (2016-17): 8.2
Chelsea (2019-20): 8.5
Chelsea (2016-17): 8.5
Liverpool (2020-21): 8.7
Chelsea (2020-21): 8.8
Liverpool (2019-20): 9
Tottenham (2016-17): 9.2
Chelsea (2018-19): 9.2
Chelsea (2021-22): 9.3

So about that 2021-22 Premier League title...

A few readers hit me up online to complain that I have not budged in predicting Man City to ease to the title even as Liverpool’s pulled within six points with a match-in-hand.

This is not a slight on the Reds at all.

In fact, were any other club putting up City’s numbers -- yes, including Chelsea -- we would rightly be wondering if we were witnessing something as special as Pep’s late ‘00s Barcelona.

And we’d rightly be calling Liverpool the era’s Real Madrid.

Liverpool’s capture of the Premier League in the pandemic-altered 2019-20 season should probably be viewed as significant as it felt to the legions of Reds supporters. It was a major, major accomplishment.

And if City either fails to win the PL this year or next under Guardiola without any major injuries marring the achievement, it will be a surprise. We are currently witnessing one of the most consistently dominant teams to ever do the thing.

The pounds spent to bring incredible depth to City (and Liverpool) may make for fun bar talk, but the lethal and clinical nature of these title runs aren’t done without discipline and they are being done against a league spending more money from top-to-bottom than any in history. And all you have to do is look to fellow big spenders Chelsea and Man United to admire the comparable constant dominance.

Follow @NicholasMendola