Everyone wants a three-horse race for the Premier League title, but don’t blame Manchester City if it doesn’t happen.
Football fans across the world have been excited by the prospect of Pep Guardiola’s team being challenged for its English crown this season by both Chelsea and Liverpool. However, just days before the start of the New Year, there is a mounting sense of anti-climax setting in, as it seems that City is in a class of its own.
The 1-0 victory over Brentford on Dec. 29 made it 10 Premier League wins in a row for the reigning champions, who are now perfectly placed to claim a fourth title in five seasons. Indeed, City is eight points clear at the top of the table after both Liverpool and Chelsea surprisingly slipped up in the space of 24 hours.
The Reds have a game in hand, but their 1-0 loss to a depleted Leicester City, coupled with Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at home to Brighton the following night, have turned Sunday’s meeting between the two sides at Stamford Bridge into a must-win affair for both Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp.
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Whichever side loses in west London will most likely be out of the running. Pep Guardiola does not agree, of course, and neither will his players. There are still 18 matches of the season remaining for City, including visits from Chelsea and Liverpool.
“Thank you for the nice words because we won, but I am not going to believe you if you say it is already done,” Guardiola said of the title race on Wednesday. “Chelsea and Liverpool are more than exceptional. One is the champion of Europe and Liverpool have been our big rival in recent years.
4 – Manchester City have won each of their last 10 Premier League games – the fourth time they’ve had a run of 10+ consecutive league wins under Pep Guardiola. No other manager in Premier League history has had more than two separate runs of 10+ wins. Incredible. #BREMCI
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 29, 2021
“There are 54 points still to play and every game, we are just thinking about the next game we have. Unfortunately, we have to come back soon to London [to face Arsenal] and play at 12.30pm and go with a good intention.”
And there’s been enough defensive uncertainty in its recent two matches to suggest that City is vulnerable, even if the results suggest otherwise.
In a 6-3 win over Leicester City, Man City somehow conceded three times in 10 minutes at home, while a Brentford side impacted by injuries and the COVID-19 spike still managed to cause City plenty of problems. But neither Liverpool nor Chelsea have been able to match the titleholders’ remarkable consistency, making them an incredibly intimidating frontrunner, as even Klopp has attested.
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Brentford showed the passion and energy required to give Manchester City a difficult night and it was telling that the Citizens were happy to take the ball deep into corners to run down the clock in the final few minutes to secure what was undeniably an ugly 1-0 win.
But, for the most part, the visitors still exerted the control they wanted and but for a tight VAR offside call on Aymeric Laporte in the closing stages, the scoreline would have been more comfortable.
While Chelsea was failing to see out its match against Brighton, Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne strangled Brentford’s creativity in midfield with 76 per cent of possession as they passed it around the home side with ease. Admittedly, City didn’t create too many clear-cut chances after Phil Foden’s neat, near-posted finish midway through the first half — though the England ace did have another strike ruled out, while De Bruyne struck the post.
However, one goal proved enough for a Man City side that has only conceded 12 times so far this season.
Brentford had threatened in a lively opening 15 minutes and thought they were ahead when Yoane Wissa’s volley squirmed past Ederson only for Joao Cancelo to clear his effort off the line. Fewer than three minutes later, though, City were ahead and it is that ruthlessness which is setting them apart from their title rivals.
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The winner was simple in its execution, with Cancelo pulling the ball back for De Bruyne to fire an inviting cross that Foden clinically tapped in from close range. It was easy to predict what was going to happen but almost impossible to stop. And there is now a similar sense of inevitability about the title race.
While Liverpool and Chelsea have dominated and failed to win against Leicester and Everton, respectively, in recent weeks, Guardiola has once again turned his team into a winning machine. The onus is now on their rivals to respond, starting at Stamford Bridge on Jan. 2.
Otherwise, City could end up winning this supposed three-horse race at a canter.