Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk concedes the title is Man City's to lose after thrilling 2-2 draw with Chelsea left champions 10 points clear at the summit; Gary Neville says Man City have transformed the once three-horse title race with "outstanding" run through festive period
Monday 3 January 2022 14:17, UK
Jamie Carragher believes Manchester City cannot be caught in the Premier League title race after Chelsea and Liverpool's 2-2 draw ensured the champions took a 10-point lead into 2022.
Sunday's meeting at Stamford Bridge presented Chelsea and Liverpool with the chance to emerge as chief challengers to City's crown, but neither seized the opportunity as a thrilling 2-2 draw only strengthened the champions' title defence.
Asked if he thought Manchester City could be caught, Carragher told Sky Sports: "No, I think Manchester City will win the league, I don't see Liverpool or Chelsea cutting that gap.
"If Liverpool had won [at Chelsea] and got the extra two points, and if they won their game in hand against Leeds, as you would expect them to do, then the gap to City would be six points, which would be very tough.
"Once it goes more than that, and you need three games to catch up on Manchester City, I just don't see it at all.
"Liverpool have been good going forward this season, Chelsea have been good defensively, but Manchester City are as good as both of them in those areas, and in terms of controlling games. That's the big difference."
Carragher continued: "How often did Sir Alex Ferguson talk about being within five or six points of the leader on January 1, then Manchester United would be in with a chance for the title? I just feel that has changed now.
"It almost feels like the run-in as soon as the international breaks are over in November. When Liverpool dropped two points at Tottenham, that shouldn't have been a bad result, but now it feels like such a big thing because Manchester City now are getting 90, 100 points.
"Teams cannot afford to draw games, even against big rivals away from home, whereas they could in the past."
When pressed on Liverpool's title credentials, Carragher highlighted his former club's susceptibility to throwing away a lead, as occurred at Chelsea, where they surrendered a two-goal lead before half-time.
"When you're 2-0 up against one of your big rivals, you've got to be disappointed. I think Liverpool in the end will actually be pleased with a point, and you could see that in the changes they made in the second half in bringing off [Sadio] Mane and [Diogo] Jota.
"But that's why Liverpool won't win the league this season. Liverpool have taken the lead 17 times this season and so have Manchester City, but City have won each game. Liverpool have only won 12.
"What Liverpool are lacking now that they had in the title-winning season is control of a football game. What we're watching here today and what we watched at Tottenham [a 2-2 draw] was Jurgen Klopp in years one and two. These end-to-end games where we'll sit back and say, 'that's the game of the season'.
"That was the best game I've seen this season, but in terms of Liverpool winning the title, that's what's going to cost them. Five times now, they've taken the lead this season and they've not won the game. That's the difference between Liverpool and Man City right now."
Speaking on the Gary Neville podcast, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville echoed Carragher's assessment and believes Manchester City's imperious run through the festive period may have just ended the three-horse title race.
"I think back to a month ago, we were talking about a three-horse race. I'm not saying we haven't still got a three-horse race, but it's certainly not in the forefront of my mind as it was a month ago. You thought these three would go neck and neck, right to the end, but I'm not quite thinking that today.
"I look at Manchester City, there are a unique team, we've never seen anything like them in this country. The way in which they play football and dominate the game. They weren't the best at Arsenal, but they won. Over the last four weeks, City have been outstanding.
"There has been a bit of negativity in the press conferences around player welfare, covid, fitness, too many games from the other two clubs [Chelsea and Liverpool] and that does get into players' minds. I'm not quite sure where they have come from, but it has coincided with some dropped points and performances which weren't at their best.
"Chelsea and Liverpool delivered a great game but, over the last month, they have suffered from a feeling of not quite being ready. I get the fact it's unique times, but these are exceptional teams and managers. Manchester City have had players missing, many players missing over the last two to three years and have had to cope with it.
"City have a strong squad, a great manager, a unique way of playing that demoralises teams. It will be very difficult to make the 10 points because they very rarely make mistakes, you've got to be neck and neck with them. It's a big ask for Chelsea and Liverpool to catch them."
Virgil van Dijk says he will never stop believing Liverpool can win the title, but conceded that it may be Manchester City's title to lose after Sunday's 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
"For the outside world, it was quite a good game to watch, but we came here for three points and didn't get them.
"They have an amazing team, so have we. I have a feeling we were under pressure at times but defended well as a team, didn't give big chances away. I always had a feeling we could score for 3-2 but it didn't happen."
Van Dijk added: "It's never difficult to believe. It's a big gap, they [Manchester City] maybe have the title to lose, but a lot can happen still.
"We have been there before, where we have had a gap in front and we gave it away, so everything is possible.
"We will focus on ourselves, Chelsea will focus on themselves, and we just have to get results, play good football and win games. It sounds pretty easy, but it tough, as we saw today."
Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness stressed Liverpool and Chelsea could not be ruled out of the Premier League title race given the stage of the season but questioned whether they had the quality to combat Manchester City.
"Can I remind you it is the second of January. It's definitely not over, you can never say that in football, but you're talking about Chelsea and Liverpool needing to win nearly all of their games.
"Manchester City have the strongest group of players ever in the history of English football. If some players get injured or go in a downward spiral in terms of form, they can chop it and change it. That is a tremendous strength.
"They can also be semi-relaxed about these games and if they were to drop a couple of points to someone, whereas Chelsea and Liverpool are playing under a different kind of pressure."
Meanwhile, Pep Lijnders, who led the Liverpool team at Chelsea in the absence of Klopp, insists his side's focus must remain on themselves.
"We never look at others, a title race is only decided on the last matchday. There are so many points to collect," he said.
"We have this difficult situation; you never know if the opposition may get difficult situations. We have to focus on ourselves, that is how we've always done it, and how we got in the position where we are, and how our team developed.
"We only focus on the next game, make that a final, and give everything we have. That is how we became champions and won the Champions League, this is what we have to keep doing, keep this fighting spirit up, and play a little bit better."
Chelsea host Tottenham on Wednesday at 7.45pm before Liverpool travel to Arsenal on Thursday at 7.45pm in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup - both live on Sky Sports Football.