Premier League title race: What would need to happen for a Man City v Liverpool play-off?

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All of these figures need to be exactly the same after 38 games for a play-off

Manchester City and Liverpool have been locked in an epic Premier League title battle – but what happens if they cannot be separated after 38 games?

There are several scenarios where that could happen – and we would need a one-off title play-off at a neutral venue to decide the champions.

We’re not saying it’s likely – both clubs would need to drop points after long winning runs for a start – but it is possible.

What happens if two clubs finish joint on points?

If teams finish a season level on points, then they will be separated by goal difference. If they are also level on that, then goals scored is the decider.

If they are still level and in the battle for the title, a final relegation place or European spot, then a play-off is needed.

Unlike other competitions there is no head-to-head rule – so Premier League rules say “the clubs concerned shall play off one or more deciding league matches on neutral grounds, the format, timing and venue of which shall be determined by the board”.

So what needs to happen in the final two games?

Remaining Premier League fixtures
Manchester CityLiverpool
Leicester (h) – 20:00 BST, Monday, 6 MayNewcastle (a) – 19:45 BST, Saturday, 4 May
Brighton (a) – 15:00 BST, Sunday, 12 MayWolves (h) – 15:00 BST, Sunday, 12 May

For a title play-off to happen, the types of results mentioned below are needed, along with a goal difference swing of four towards Liverpool and a certain amount of goals scored. The order of the results below do not matter.

  • A Liverpool draw and Manchester City defeat, as well as both sides having the same type of result (win, lose or draw) in their other game.
  • A Liverpool win and defeat and two Manchester City draws.

Exact scenarios that would produce a play-off

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp’s sides are locked in an intense title battle, with neither side dropping points in almost two months

Liverpool win 5-0 and lose 2-1 AND Man City draw both games 0-0

Liverpool win 4-0 and draw 3-3 AND Man City win 1-0 and lose 1-0

Liverpool draw both games 3-3 AND Man City draw 0-0 and lose 4-0

Liverpool draw 3-3 and lose 4-3 AND Man City lose 3-0 and lose 2-0

*similar scores to above could also produce a play-off – if City and Liverpool both score and concede an identical amount of goals on top of the above scorelines without changing any of the results (eg in the top scenario Liverpool winning 6-1 and losing 2-1 and Man City drawing 1-1 and 0-0)

Has it ever happened before?

No.

However the Premier League did make contingency plans in 1995-96, booking two possible dates at Wembley, and printing tickets for a possible play-off between Manchester United and Newcastle. In the end the Red Devils won the league by four points.

Premier League bosses printed a first batch of tickets for a potential title play-off between Manchester United and Newcastle in 1995-96

In previous seasons a play-off has been a possibility going into the final day to settle Champions League or Europa League places, but it has never ended up being needed.

There is still a possibility of a play-off being needed to decide the final Champions League and/or Europa League spot this season, but that is another story for another time.

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