Premier League title race: Manchester City edging the finest of margins
Manchester City are currently edging a Premier League title race that is being decided by the merest of moments and the finest of margins - and on Sunday just 29.51mm was the difference between being title favourites and potentially blowing the race entirely.
It is symbolic of the magnificent battle between City and Liverpool that the difference between the two sides can be measured in millimetres - but more importantly, right now, by the single point that separates them after Pep Guardiola's side ground out a 1-0 win over Burnley at Turf Moor.
Sergio Aguero's winner was a mere 29mm behind the line when Matthew Lowton failed in his attempt to bundle it clear 64 minutes into the dogfight.
It evokes memories of January, when John Stones scrambled out his own deflection 11mm in front of the line when City beat Liverpool 2-1 to inflict on Jurgen Klopp's side this season's only league loss.
This is an accurate measure of the current distance between City and Liverpool - with room for another final twist. The finest of margins. The most dramatic, intense of Premier League title races.
Manchester City now face Leicester at home and Brighton away, while Liverpool travel to Newcastle next Saturday night before facing Wolves at Anfield on the final day of the season. If City win both games they will be champions.
This is a truly remarkable face-off between a City team who won their 12th successive league game in a real scrap at Turf Moor, while Liverpool - barring the late slip - may yet face the agony of losing only one game, to the team above them, in an entire campaign and not winning the title.
It is an assessment for another day. City are now favourites but this race is not yet run and Klopp and his players remain full of belief.
|Remaining Premier League fixtures|
|Leicester (h) - 20:00 BST, Monday, 6 May||Newcastle (a) - 19:45 BST, Saturday, 4 May|
|Brighton (a) - 15:00 BST, Sunday, 12 May||Wolves (h) - 15:00 BST, Sunday, 12 May|
Pep prepared for pragmatism
Guardiola's reputation has been forged on the style beloved by purists at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City - but all the great managers have a wide streak of pragmatism and the Catalan was more than happy to show it to complete this slender win.
City were nowhere near their best, Aguero's scrappy goal an emblem of their performance, but once they had that lead Guardiola was prepared to employ hard-nosed techniques to protect it.
Aguero walked off at a pace that would have shamed a snail when he was replaced by John Stones. It attracted Turf Moor's ire but ate up vital seconds. Stones was also joined by Nicolas Otamendi as City went into lockdown.
Needs must - with even City's thousands of travelling fans occasionally demonstrating their frustration as they slowed the game down rather than risk a counter by going full-tilt for a second.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche, whose expertise at organisation kept City at bay for more than an hour, expressed his admiration for Guardiola's willingness to embrace the game's cold realities, even though it meant The Clarets were snuffed out.
He said: "I heard Pep Guardiola with my own ears saying 'get it in the corner'. Even the best sides have to do it and I have absolutely no problem with it at all.
"Sometimes they have to do it as well and today was one of those times. I thought it was refreshing to hear a top manager scream to his players to get it in the corner.
"I think it is a sign of him wanting to win. You have to do what he wants to do to win. There were a few moments in the second half where you saw the game slowing down. I have got no problem with it. They are a top side but they still have to do the details."
And no-one was complaining at the final whistle as Manchester City's players, staff and supporters celebrated the win that shifts the pressure back on to Liverpool when they travel to Tyneside next Saturday, with a Champions League semi-final leg against Barcelona on each side.
This was a day for artisans rather than artistry and it is a tribute to Manchester City that so many of their players possess both in abundance.
|Premier League title race form guide|
|Team||Form over the past 10 league games|
Aguero's class endures
Bernardo Silva was an outstanding contributor once more, willing to get his hands dirty and creating when he had the chance, while Kyle Walker's drive and personality has been a key factor in what may yet prove to be the defining week of this season's title push.
In the end it was, with predictability, Aguero who made the difference - as he has been doing since he arrived from Atletico Madrid for a bargain £38m in July 2011.
The mark of Aguero's quality and consistency is that he is only the second player in Premier League history to score 20-plus goals in five consecutive seasons, following on from Theirry Henry's feat between 2001/02 and 2005/06.
When title races can be measured in millimetres, moments and single points, men like Aguero are priceless - and he kept Manchester City on course to retain their Premier League crown.