Explained: How there could be a Man City vs Liverpool playoff for EPL title

NEW DELHI: English Premier League, popularly known just as the Premier League, is arguably the most watched football league in the world with live broadcast in as many as 188 countries; and it is having one of the most fiercely contested seasons currently with reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool vying for the title.

Currently (as on May 12) Man City are on top of the standings, three points ahead of their title contenders Liverpool. Man City have 89 points at the moment, and will retain the title if they get four more points from their last two league games. But a unique scenario can emerge if Liverpool win their next two games and Man City manage to secure just three points from their last two matches.

Then the two teams will be level (on 92 points), and if the two teams are evenly matched on a couple more criterion, then for the first time in Premier League history, we will witness a deciding play-off 39th match between the two sides at a neutral venue – a 39th game for the two teams in the league to determine the champions of England.

Here’s an explainer by TimesofIndia.com about how a play-off will work and the conditions required for a play-off after the regular league season ends:

The Premier League format

The Premier League is the top-tier football league of England and there are 20 teams competing in it, playing each other in home and away matches, featuring a total of 380 matches played between August and May of next year. Winners of each game are awarded three points, a draw fetching the team one point with none for a defeat.

The team with the most points at the end of the season wins the coveted Premier League title. Additionally, the teams that finish in the bottom three of the league table at the end of the season are relegated to the Championship, the second tier league of England. Those teams are replaced by three teams promoted from the Championship — the top-two sides of the second-tier league and the third via the end-of-season playoffs.

European football:

The teams that finish in the top four of the Premier League qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League group stages. A fifth-place Premier League finish takes a team into the UEFA Europa League group stage, but the next best-placed teams who have not qualified for Europe will also enter the competition if the winners of the FA Cup and/or League Cup qualify through their individual league positions.

What happens when two teams finish on the same number of points?

The Premier League rules state that a play-off will be used to determine the champions of the league if two sides are level on points, goal difference, goals scored and in the head-to-head results between them. “If two or more clubs finish level in the table when competing for the title or European qualification, or when relegation is at stake, their records in the head-to-head matches will now be used to separate them.

In previous seasons, teams involved in these specific battles who finished with the same points total, goal difference and number of goals scored would be pitted against each other in a play-off. But that extra match is now less likely. Only if the clubs remain level in the table after this will a play-off be arranged, at a neutral ground, with the format, timing and venue being determined by the Premier League Board,” the Premier League said in a statement back in 2020.

So, what’s happening this season?

Rigning champions Manchester City and an unprecedented quadruple title-chasing Liverpool are taking the EPL title race down to the wire. Man City are leading the race by three points currently (as on May 12) with just two games left to play for both contending teams, so the chances of the 39th game play-off to decide the champions is highly unlikely, but bizarre things do go hand in hand with sport.

The box for one of the four criterion needed for a play-off to materialise has already been ticked – the head-to-head results in the season are all level after both the games at Anfield and Etihad ended with an identical scoreline of 2-2. Six points for Liverpool and three points for Man City in the last two league games per team will level the points at 92 each.

Man City lead the goal difference by 7, and have scored 5 goals more than Liverpool at the moment. But those numbers can change at the end of the last two league encounters. The possibility of both criteria being evenly matched is not a far -fetched one; for example if Man City won 2-0 and lost 0-2 in their final two games, all Liverpool need is a 7-0 result from their two matches (4-0, 3-0 or 5-0, 2-0 etc.).

When and where can the play-off match be played?

If a play-off is needed to determine the winner between the two teams, both Man City and Liverpool would need to have at least 48 hours between the final league game of the season and the deciding play-off game. This means the earliest date possible would be Wednesday, May 25 at a neutral venue. Keep in mind that that could potentially disrupt Liverpool’s preparations for the big UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid in Paris on May 29.

The current status

Man City will have a chance to increase their lead over Liverpool to six points this weekend as they play West Ham on Sunday. Liverpool are playing the FA Cup final against Chelsea on Saturday and they play their next EPL game on May 18 against Southampton. Man City and Liverpool host Aston Villa and Wolves respectively on the final day of the season (May 22).