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COMMENT In this presidential Premier League race, is the map poised to turn Red or Blue?

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Pep has not looked his usual self lately

Pep has not looked his usual self lately

Pep has not looked his usual self lately

It feels like another of those epoch-defining contests, the kind playing-out in the battlegrounds of Pennsylvania and Georgia to a soundtrack of rolling CNN coverage.

Is the Premier League map poised to turn Red or Blue? Will it be Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola advancing toward football's Oval Office as night falls over The Etihad?

Is it absurdly premature to present a thesis, in early November, that Manchester City might have to resort to a legal challenge to maintain their title bona fides if they lose today and fall eight points behind their great presidential rivals?

Could Liverpool, if they claim this afternoon's swing-state, really be on the cusp of becoming two-term champions?

Wobble

And, most intriguingly of all, might the opening lines of a concession speech - one that sees ­him walk away from England to reunite with Lionel Messi at the Camp Nou - form in Guardiola's head if his team fall short today?

Manchester United are flailing wildly and, for all their gathering momentum, neither Chelsea nor Spurs can be trusted not to wobble and teeter and fade.

Though Liverpool have lost their defensive lodestar, Virgil van Dijk. Though City, with Sergio Aguero's ageing limbs revolting, have struggled for offensive potency, still it is hard to imagine a third party taking both giants down.

On inauguration day in late spring, it will surely be one of Jordan Henderson or Fernandinho accepting the seal of office as they are sworn-in as commander-in-chief.

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Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson.

The odds-makers are unequivocal in viewing it as a two-horse race. At lunchtime yesterday, they had City as 5/4 favourites to make it three titles in four years, with Liverpool at 17/10, Spurs 17/2 and Chelsea 10/1. Arsenal (33/1) and United (35/1) are dismissed as no-hopers.

The narrative of the season has been slightly unhinged. Liverpool conceded seven to Aston Villa, United leaked six at home to Spurs, City were floored by five Leicester haymakers.

Guardiola has appeared moody, forlorn and drained of energy, a man drinking from the bottom of his cup.

His brilliance as a coach has always been matched by a burning self-regard.

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Recently, the results have fallen some way short of justifying that swagger.

Incoherent on the nights that count in Europe, Guardiola's philosophies seemed suddenly moth-eaten next to the shiny new suit in which Klopp has uniformed Liverpool.

The German's higher-octane pressing and precision game is now the benchmark against which all are measured.

Deep down, Guardiola probably understands he cannot afford to come up short in this latest argument.

Soon to be out of contract, his Barcelona first-love making provocative Catalonian eyes at him, the sense that his team have stalled, all of these things have fuelled the rumour mill to grind out stories about the end of the affair.

This feels like a moment where Pep, trailing in the polls, must make a bold and decisive statement.

Manchester City have already dropped seven points in six games. In their most recent title-winning season - 2018/19 - that landmark did not arrive until their 16th match.

Without their all-time record goalscorer and gunslinger-in-chief Aguero to fire their kill-shots, City look unusually toothless, though the emergency striker Ferran Torres has responded to his manager's 999 call with reasonable intent.

Still, Brighton and Newcastle and West Ham are among the also-rans who have more league goals than City's nine.

Again, a comparison with 2018/19, when an early-season blitzkrieg saw them net 18 times in their opening half-dozen games, suggests a club in a concerning downward spiral.

The stakes could hardly be higher for Guardiola as the champions call to his house.

He warmed to the race for the White House metaphor in his pre-match press conference.

Challenged about City's faltering start, he cautioned against premature obituaries for either candidate: "It's like presidential elections in America. All the votes must be counted."

Pep is right, of course.

One performance of conviction and poise will immediately alter perceptions. If City take down Liverpool this afternoon, they will be just two points adrift with a game in hand.

And the spotlight will immediately shift to Anfield, in particular to the void left by Van Dijk, the unconvincing form of Joe Gomez, the kinks exposed by Villa, Leeds, Everton, even, in defeat, by Sheffield United and West Ham.

Liverpool's form has been patchy. At least Diego Jota has deflected from the worst of the systems failures as he soars toward the stratosphere.

Leaked

Before yesterday's games kicked-off, only West Brom had conceded more than their 15 goals. The near impregnable fortress of 2018/19 (when they leaked only 22 goals in 38 games), now has doors ajar and windows open.

Kevin De Bruyne's lock-picking expertise is unrivalled. If Liverpool do not urgently review their security arrangements, the Belgian has the potential to run amok.

Klopp, leaning toward logic and hosing down the hype, chuckles at the notion that the season might have arrived at an existential afternoon, while still in its first chapter.

"It's, of course, nothing even close to a title decider… there are so many games to come, whatever happens on Sunday will not decide about the league."

Maybe not, but there is certainly the potential to strike a blow, that, if not mortal, will have a concussive impact.

A Liverpool victory would spray-paint a great chunk of CNN's magic wall red; a City awakening would yield an intrusion of blue, and the conviction that the race for football's Oval Office could go right down to the wire.

The Etihad, we suspect, will be as tense this afternoon as any Pennsylvanian, Georgian or Michigan count centre.

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