The magnitude of Sunday's blockbuster English Premier League clash between Liverpool and Manchester City isn't measured by the fact that tickets are selling for 50 times face value on the black market, or that every British media outlet is consumed by little else, or even that it could be the 90 minutes that determines the outcome of the championship.
That answer can only be found in the record books. It is there where the significance of the matchup between the two favorites to lift the trophy is spelled out in black and white.
It shows Liverpool's long and agonizing wait for glory: The former heavyweight champion of English soccer has not won its biggest prize since 1990, two years before the start of the Premier League era. Among the statistics you can also see the timelessly painful plight of Manchester City: The "blue half" of Manchester owns just one Premier League crown to hated cross-town rival Manchester United's 13.
With United having struggled mightily since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure last summer, the Premiership race opened up into its most entertaining tussle in years. It narrowed into a three-way scrap that now looks to have become two with Chelsea's recent troubles, although a draw on Sunday would allow the London club another window of opportunity to get back into the mix.
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For Liverpool, winning it all would mean everything, especially since getting this close has come as a huge surprise.
Last season's seventh-place finish, 28 points adrift, was seen as a fair indication of the club's position in the pecking order. Captain Steven Gerrard even lamented at the start of this campaign that his long career at Anfield would surely end without that prize in his possession. But just as what happened after Gerrard dismissed his team's chances of winning the Champions League en route to a mightily unexpected European triumph in 2005, things began to click into place.
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge developed into the league's most devastating attacking partnership. Gerrard himself stepped up to show the sort of spirit and form you don't expect from a 33-year-old. The shaky defense found ways to hold firm, and the team's confidence grew.
And when it looked like Liverpool would slip, it found fresh legs around the turn of the year and are now on a nine-game winning streak in the EPL.
City has been similarly relentless, and from where the race stands now, it is impossible to predict a champion with much certainty except to say that if Chelsea is to get over the line it will need some help.
Liverpool leads third-place City by four points, but the Manchester club has two games in hand. Liverpool might have a slightly tougher schedule – it has to play both its rival contenders, but at home – while City, after traveling to Anfield this weekend, still has to visit Everton, which is chasing a spot in next season's Champions League.
City is the more well-rounded team with a midfield engineered by the outstanding Yaya Toure, who has served as both a driving force in attack and a protective wall defensively. Taken over by Arabian oil billionaires in 2008, City has spent more than $1 billion on new players and craves becoming entrenched as the most dominant club in England to erase the memories of those painful "United years."
How things pan out this season may have much to do with psychology. Which team has the greater advantage – the one that feels the pressure of expectation or the one that never dreamed of being in this position?
Of the situation, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers says he is "loving it" and it is hard to blame him. While the championship won't be clinched on Sunday, the victor will have taken a giant step toward it.
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