One is fun. Two make a party. Every time one thinks they have seen it all, football throws up something quite extraordinary. Liverpool, Manchester City, AC Milan, Inter Milan. Four clubs and three areas starting with M are in contention for the big W in the title race when play time commences in England and Italy this weekend.
And to make matters more tantalizing, they do not play each. That means, there are two sets of two simultaneously tantalizing games to keep an eye on. Further, the ones in Italy start within an hour of them in England. Merseyside, Manchester, Milan and Milan. Red, blue, red, blue. England spreads across two neighbouring cities. Meanwhile, Italy has to contend with a hectic city divide. These games are not just about titles or victories. They are about pride, loyalty, culture and everything so fiercely personal that there remains only heartbreak in commendable second.
For any neutral, there are no losers. Only four sets of valiant soldiers whom only the nature of sporting silverware divides. Liverpool, Manchester City, AC Milan, Inter Milan. Premier League on the line. And Serie A to be won. For some, their entire season depends on this one game. For some others, this day - this one day - is everything they have worked for all their lives. One would usually play up such occasions. However, when the whistles blow in these two nations' top flight leagues, there really is no exaggerating the quantum of these four games.
Italian title race
Have we gone back in time? Or is the world restoring itself to olden times? After a supercharge of connecting people and the need for social media, there is slowly an understanding and growing appreciation for privacy. Moving beyond industrialization, there is a concerted effort to make harmony with natural environment. And over in Italy, the division of football loyalties is now playing itself out in title deciders. Good old days? Well, who knows what good is. But definitely not old days.
Emotions old? Yes. Rivalries old? Yes. The hearts in this great city of gushing world history and bustling fashion is still a strict colour either red or blue. There is not one person here who believes theirs is any less than the others. And in this greatly stimulated sense of ownership lies the story of Milan's football.
AC Milan and Inter Milan - is there a twist?
The great AC Milan are seething and therein expecting with verve that the famine is coming to an end. For those pledging red allegiance in this part of the world, the dark cloud promising rain for a victory dance is so nigh. That first drop of monsoon after a long season of parched throats and sunken hearts is visible. Not in the horizon visible. In the vicinity visible. It is that close. A draw for them will be enough at Sassuolo. For a team leading the table by two points, an away draw against an 11th placed side should not be a big climb.
However, AC Milan have lost their last two fixtures against the same side in the league. And for a team who have nothing to achieve or salvage from the season, this is the perfect motivation to gain conversation spot. Footballers play for this moment. That one moment under the sun. The headlines on final day of the season.
Back at Inter, this was their title race. They could have been in the lead heading into Sunday. And that dark cloud for AC Milan could well have been one of further gloom. But they slipped. It was a slip of fate. Costly errors from the last person who can commit an error and get away - the goalkeeper. Bologna were the beneficiaries in the game and their neighbourly rivals the winners on the night.
But with AC Milan not having won this league in 11 years, there must be a baggage. Augment that with their record against the same opposition lately. Do not be surprised if you see a twist. Irrespective of winner and loser, one way or another, someone is becoming an indelible part of Milan folklore this Sunday.
English title race
Manchester City was running a lonely race in England. For so long there was no sign of a real challenge. And that is the beauty of the Premier League. It is a league where competition is never too far away. And there are so many of those "big" teams that two, or even three teams, having a bad season still allows space for two to indulge in a title race.
Over time in the world's marketed and popular league, there have been various sets of battling giants that have attracted the world's frantically moving eyes. Manchester United against others before Arsenal emerged. Then came Jose Mourinho's 'not one from the bottle special one' Chelsea to challenge the Sir Alex Ferguson dominance. The noisy neighbors, fuelled by investment, emerged as Manchester red gave way to Merseyside red.
And that has been the story of the Premier League's last half decade. Klopp's madness versus Guardiola's method. It is like a wonderful festival of standard defying fun.
Liverpool and Manchester City - the title race
There is an unrelenting sense of relentlessness in Jurgen Klopp. Start from the full backs. It is minute 90 and with two games over the last seven days in his legs, their full back still makes the sprint. The game is supposed to be won. Yet, there is a sense of title defining emergency in the charge back. It is as though the full back is a boyhood club fan making his debut. But no. It is only Andrew Robertson! Established and that minute detail barely differential in his overall status.
So when Liverpool fans say "This means more", you know where it is coming from. Long ago the world had made fun of Jurgen Klopp for celebrating a draw against West Brom. Look where we are now. If that day was eyebrow raising, his job at Liverpool at that net spend is jaw dropping. It is almost unbelievable how he can still challenge a City side that has far outspent their rivals.
Football, however, is played 11 vs 11. Platitude and a basic fact that may communicate nothing fancy. And in its simplicity lies a strong message. The message reads 90 vs 89 after 37 Premier League games. City still have control. Liverpool, though, have hope. And this game of extremely simple logic played by 22 people aiming to enchant a ball having to hit the back of net has thrown up - time and again - such complexly strange outcomes.
Pep vs Klopp - how is it even a race?
Pep Guardiola, there is no doubt, is a genius. In the modern game, there is nobody as obsessively meticulous as he is. There is nobody close enough to his remonstrations at a time his team is bordering on tennis scores to love in football matches. His animated passion for the game, in a way, is akin to Klopp's. One fists his chest and the other one carves in thin air drawing out tactical designs with his bare fingers. Idiosyncrasies aplenty.
However, there is where that comparison really stops. In terms of the strength of team and approach to building it, they are far apart from one another. This is as much a function of fancy as circumstance. Manchester City get who they want and when they want. Well, apart from a Harry Kane.
Meanwhile, Liverpool buy smart. They eye bargains and watch them develop from men to Godzillas of the game. Behemoths. More than the sum of its parts they say about Liverpool. That has been the case for so long that the parts have accentuated in value greatly. No wonder Klopp and Liverpool are the darling of the media. To the extent that Pep - who usually is 'more happy than you believe' - was instigated into a statement against the English media.
Eventually, it may all boil down to nothing. City will perhaps run geometric patterns around Villa and Steven Gerrard will yet again be unable to inspire Liverpool to a Premier League title. But that Klopp and Liverpool are still running this race, shoulder to shoulder in the lastest of last laps is a testament to something beyond explanation. Liverpool need a mighty stretch and a bit of luck. City can touch the rope with a puffed chest. Margins. Everywhere.
This really is the multiverse of madness!