Liverpool are the Opta supercomputer’s new favourites in the Premier League title race, but do they have an easier run-in than Manchester City and Arsenal?

Manchester City’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal might not have been the relentless thrill ride everyone hoped it would be, but that doesn’t mean its impact wasn’t seismic, because it was. Just not in a positive sense for either City or the Gunners.

Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Brighton earlier on Sunday meant the Reds ultimately ended the weekend top of the Premier League, and arguably even more significant than that was for the first time this season we had new favourites to win the title.

As a result of Sunday’s scores, the most recent round of the Opta supercomputer’s 10,000 season simulations saw Liverpool finish top the most often. They were successful in 47.7% of the latest sims; prior to the international break, they were at 35.3%.

Conversely, City’s inability to break down a stubborn Arsenal defence meant their title chances went the other way from 45.9% to 33.5%, the lowest they’ve been all season as they sit three points behind leaders Liverpool. They’re also a point off the Gunners, whose chances remained the same (18.8%) according to the supercomputer.

But who really thinks it’s going to be a case of as you were right until the very end of the season? The top three have chopped and changed at will over the past few weeks, and there’s every reason to think there’ll be a few more twists over the next six weeks or so.

After all, City, Liverpool and Arsenal aren’t the only teams who can impact how the title race concludes. Many teams will have lots to fight for before the season ends in mid-May and each of the top three have nine matches to go.

We can get an idea of which club has the trickiest run-in by looking at the Opta Power Rankings and taking the average team rating of each side City, Liverpool and Arsenal still have to play.

All three of them still have games that could prove troublesome, though the supercomputer considers Arsenal’s remaining slate of fixtures to be the toughest – and it stands to reason.

Premier League title race fixture difficulty
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

While they’ll be expected to take comfortable wins from home meetings with Luton Town, Bournemouth and Everton, there are undoubtedly several matches that have the potential to be a nuisance, especially considering they’re also still in the Champions League.

A north London derby duel away to Tottenham is the biggest obstacle, but Arsenal also have to face Manchester United at Old Trafford, and host both Aston Villa and Chelsea.

Of course, Chelsea and United are entirely beatable and Arteta’s men will surely go into both games as favourites, however you cannot deny both have the ability to spring a surprise despite their inconsistency.

The average rating of the teams Arsenal still have to face is 87.2, and while that’s not massively higher than the respective figures of Liverpool or City, it does reflect a slightly tougher run-in, and we all know what happened to Arsenal last year after Matchday 29.

Liverpool also still have to face Man Utd (A) and Tottenham (H), and like Arsenal with the north London derby, the Reds have a similarly unpredictable fixture in the Merseyside derby at Everton on 24 April.

Aston Villa away on the penultimate matchday of the season should also be seen as a potential banana skin, particularly if Unai Emery’s side are still fighting for – but haven’t yet secured – a Champions League spot.

The average rating of Liverpool’s remaining opponents is 86.5, and then there’s City, looking slightly better off at 86.4.

Pep Guardiola’s side will certainly come up against some tricky opposition, but the makeup of their run-in does look notably more straightforward than those of Liverpool or Arsenal.

Wednesday’s visit of Villa – the last team to beat them in the Premier League – is one of the most likely games to throw up a surprise, even if City won 63.1% of the 10,000 pre-match simulations. They’ve also got to go to Tottenham and Brighton; otherwise, though, most people would expect City to comfortably win their remaining games.

Of course, it’s all well and good saying x team should beat y team but football doesn’t always unfold as we expect, and you could even make that argument regarding the situation the Premier League finds itself in now, with a three-team title race.

Arsenal have done very well to take their learnings from last season’s collapse and mount another serious (well, so far…) title challenge; Liverpool are probably exceeding the expectations of many as well after almost completely rebuilding their midfield; and City haven’t run away with the title when many thought they would.

City were huge favourites at the start of the season, and yet here we are, less than seven weeks away from the final game of the campaign and they’re no longer seen as the most convincing contender by the supercomputer.

That’s also reflected by our expected points table, which is a model that simulates the number of goals scored by each side in every match based on the expected goals (xG) value of every shot taken (or faced). It then uses the simulated number of goals to determine the match outcome (win/draw/loss), and each match is simulated 10,000 times. The expected points for each team in each match can then be calculated based on the proportion of simulations they win/draw/lose.

The underlying data suggests City should be second, ahead of Liverpool, with Arsenal leading the way. Perhaps the Reds have been luckier than their rivals, and who’s to say that won’t continue as their fans attempt to will another Premier League title into being for Jürgen Klopp’s big send-off.

Premier League expects points table xpts
Jonny Whitmore / Senior Data Editor

This is of course not an exact science, as xG data doesn’t account for a lot of factors, such as game state and dangerous periods of possession that don’t lead to shots. Nevertheless, it’s still a decent barometer for how teams have performed over the bulk of the 2023-24 campaign.

How things unfold from here is unclear; what is clear, however, is a few sides – namely Aston Villa, Tottenham and Wolves, all of whom face each of the top three – could have a major say in where the title ends up.

City seemingly have the advantage of a slightly easier run-in, but will that be enough to give them the edge in the long run?

Who knows, but they’ve played catch-up before and had the mettle to rise to the challenge.

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