Can Anyone Realistically Match Manchester City All The Way To May?8 min read
After Manchester City’s record-breaking season last year in which Pep Guardiola lifted his first Premier League trophy, the Citizens are expected to retain that title and fend off the fierce opposition that are sneaking up on them.
Sitting two points above second-placed Chelsea with their unbeaten record in the league intact, Guardiola has started this season just as he ended the last: by winning. City look smoother than ever and in the Spaniard’s third season in charge in the North West, they truly are the team to beat in the country – and it will take some doing in fulfilling that.
This season, though, there are obstacles in City’s way. Manchester United offered a limp title challenge last year, but Liverpool and Chelsea look to have the bit between their teeth and giving City a good run so far. Whether they can go the distance until May is another story, but there is reason to suggest they might just be able to give the Citizens a run for their money.
Before the season begun, it was Liverpool who were tasked with overthrowing City’s dominance over the league after impressing on the continental stage. After some important recruitment to the squad’s quality in depth, Jürgen Klopp’s Reds have a team that is, on paper, capable of going toe-to-toe with Guardiola’s players.
Their season has started excellent and they too, along with City and Chelsea, remain undefeated in the Premier League. One more draw than City’s two is what separates the clubs, but the Reds have only dropped points to teams challenging for a top four position.
In past years there have been questions asked over the mental strength of the team when challenging week in, week out, but Liverpool’s resilience so far has shown that they look an improved group of players ready to tackle the uphill battle. That mental fortitude now needs to personify itself on the pitch after a disappointing loss to Red Star Belgrade in the midweek Champions League games.
Liverpool have an enigmatic manager who has at his disposal an electric front line that can carry the Reds all the way. With the signing of Virgil van Dijk, the German manager now has a commanding defender that has slotted in and improved standards in the back four, sewing the holes in Liverpool’s once leaky defence.
The Reds remain City’s biggest threat.
Under new boss Maurizio Sarri, Chelsea have rekindled their form in Antonio Conte’s first season in charge. The Blues are a slick outfit who are now reaping the rewards of an inform Eden Hazard.
The Italian coach has applied the same principles that made him such a success story in Naples and with the acquisition of Jorginho at the base of Chelsea’s midfield, they now have a platform which to launch the transition from defence into attack.
The question mark over this current Chelsea side is their defensive vulnerabilities. David Luiz might be the ball-playing centre back that Sarri values, but he has been caught out on a number of occasions this season and has that chink in his armour.
With the involvement of the testing Europa League from the group stages, unless Chelsea invest in January, they might just fade away come the business end of the season and prioritise finishing in the top four with a trophy.
Although Álvaro Morata has found the back of the net with some success so far, Chelsea need a centre forward who can deliver and be a reliable source of goals – such as Diego Costa was under Conte in his first year.
Chelsea are likely to push hard until February, but ultimately step off the gas and focus elsewhere.
Tottenham’s best chance of a league title was in the year Leicester City rose to victory. Unfortunately for them, they were better than the usual suspects, but not the Foxes.
With the ongoing problems at the new stadium, that is reportedly not being opened until, at the earliest, March, Mauricio Pochettino cuts a frustrated figure. On more than one occasion has he mentioned his frustrations over their new playing ground, having to resort to a Wembley pitch that is in tatters.
Spurs have come on leaps and bounds since the Argentine took over, but they still look far from what is needed to overthrow Manchester City. In their most recent fixture, Tottenham squandered chances against a subpar City side when they should have made them count.
Pochettino will want to win a trophy this season and put that to bed, but it will not be the Premier League.
The Gunners have started this season well under new boss Unai Emery and it appears that the Spaniard has reinvigorated the club after a period of stagnation under Arsène Wenger.
While there are still improvements to be made – especially in defence – Arsenal’s attack, spearheaded by Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, is starting to flourish in front of goal. The pair have a combined tally of 12 Premier League goals, which is just under their total of 25 for the season.
Arsenal have not won a Premier League title since the mid-2000s, and this year does look improbable, but Arsenal’s rejuvenation period will be one that is received well among the fans and they will want to see more of a challenge next season.
While recent form suggests they have great momentum heading into the Manchester Derby, José Mourinho’s players are not at the consistent level to challenge City this season.
As Mourinho rightly points out, they might have finished second last season, but there is too big a bridge to build to get them back on level terms with the Citizens. Their focus this season will be to have a successful European run and to finish in a Champions League-qualifying spot – anything else is an added bonus.
The Red Devils have produced rabbits from hats before, but to win the Premier League you need to be consistently excellent. And they are simply just not that.