Pablo Zabaleta Says Experience Gives Manchester City Edge over 'Tense' Liverpool

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2019

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 14: Vincent Kompany of Manchester City lifts the Premier League Trophy during the Manchester City Trophy Parade in Manchester city centre on May 14, 2018 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)
Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

Pablo Zabaleta has identified Manchester City's experience as the decisive quality in this season's Premier League title race.

West Ham United right-back Zabaleta, who won the title with City in 2012 and 2014, believes City's know-how gives them the edge over nearest rivals Liverpool, who are becoming "tense" amid unfamiliar title pressure, per BBC Sport's Simon Stone:

"There is a long way to go and it's important to have won the Premier League previously because City have been in this situation before.

"Both times we won the league, we were behind the leaders at this point. Some players in the dressing room now have experience of that and that is going to be key.

"They can talk to the others, keep everyone focused and tell them their experiences."

Zabaleta won two titles in Manchester.
Zabaleta won two titles in Manchester.ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

If knowing how to handle the pressure becomes key, then the title will be City's for a second season running. The champions trail Liverpool by a point with 10 games left to play, but there is a distinct lack of title-winning know-how among the Reds.

James Milner knows what it takes, having been in City's 2012 and 2014 title squads. However, there isn't another senior first-teamer in the Liverpool ranks who has lifted the biggest prize in the English domestic game.

Not only is it an unfamiliar feeling for the players, but many Liverpool supporters have also never seen their team win the league. The Anfield club last claimed the title at the end of the 1989/90 season as part of the old First Division.

Zabaleta noted how anxiety from the stands can also play a part in a tight race: "When the team is not playing well, it seems the fans are a little bit tense. That can make it difficult for the players to concentrate and play well."

Zabaleta thinks the tension could be getting to Liverpool.
Zabaleta thinks the tension could be getting to Liverpool.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

Tension has seemed obvious in many of Liverpool's recent performances. The Reds have drawn three of their last five league games.

However, the leaders rediscovered their swagger during Wednesday's 5-0 home win over Watford. City weren't anywhere near as impressive but still managed to get over the line with a nervy 1-0 victory against Zabaleta's Hammers on the same night.

The ability to grind out results when not playing well often defines champions, and it's a skill City have perfected in recent seasons. Manager Pep Guardiola's squad is loaded with title winners, with holdovers Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and David Silva dating as far back as the 2012 triumph.

This trio knows what it takes finish first in a tense race. They did it when Aguero's famous goal beat Queens Park Rangers in stoppage time to deny Manchester United the big prize on the final day seven years ago.

Aguero is one of many in the City squad who has experienced winning a title more than once.
Aguero is one of many in the City squad who has experienced winning a title more than once.Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

It was close again two years later, as City overturned a five-point deficit with three games to go to leave Liverpool ruing missed chances.

History can repeat itself this season, even though Liverpool have a slight advantage in the run-in. The average positions of their remaining opponents is lower than those of City, per Mark Critchley of The Independent.

The Citizens also face two games against fellow members of the top six. They host Tottenham Hotspur on April 20, four days before a trip to United.

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City also have the added pressure of going after the quadruple. Having won the Carabao Cup recently, the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League also remain within their grasp.

Liverpool's mix of a rock-solid defence and a rapid, versatile forward line gives the Reds their strongest chance in years. Yet City have been here before, and their key players know how to stay focused and deliver when it counts.

Even with the extra workload of chasing other trophies, Guardiola's men should pip their rivals to the post.