From 14 Premier League fixtures played so far, Manchester City have only dropped points twice. They boast the greatest goal difference in the division, +37, and have scored 11 more goals than second top scorers, Arsenal. Unbeaten and possibly uncatchable, Pep Guardiola’s side are setting a relentless pace.
And yet there have been signs of weakness in their recent performances. Not enough to knock them from their stride – they have still won nine of their last 10 matches, after all – but enough to suggest there might be hope for the likes of Liverpool looking to pull in City at the top of the Premier League table.
City’s greatest strength isn’t in anything they do as a team, but in what they do to opposition sides. Opponents, particularly those making the trip to the Etihad, are beaten before a ball has even been kicked. City are expected to win every game, any convincingly, and this frequently manifests itself in an air of resignation in the opposition.
This is why last Saturday’s game against Bournemouth might prove to be a landmark moment for Man City, and the rest of the Premier League, this season. The Cherries might have ultimately suffered a 3-1 defeat, but they played with a belief that defeat wasn’t an inevitability. Few teams have given Guardiola’s men so many problems.
Of course, Lyon had scored twice against City just a few days previously, drawing 2-2 in the Champions League. It was a game the Premier League champions were fortunate to escape from. Had Lyon taken their chances, some of which were gilt-edged, they would have secured a comprehensive victory.
Even the 4-0 trouncing of West Ham can be seen in a slightly different light when you consider that the Hammers did have as many shots on goal (nine) as City did that day. Granted, they didn’t get any reward for having a go, but neither have the many others who’ve elected to sit deep and try and hit City on the counter.
Last season, it was Liverpool and, surprisingly, Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, who set the precedent for others to follow. The season before that, Celtic were the first to break through the mental block so many teams experience against City, drawing 3-3 in the Champions League. Until then, Guardiola had started his reign at the club with six straight league wins. After that, City won just one of their next five matches.
It’s unlikely that Man City will suffer this sort of drop off any time soon as they travel to Watford on Tuesday night, but the past week might just have shown others how to play against the defending Premier League champions.
While the natural temptation might be to stand off Guardiola’s side, Lyon and Bournemouth have all demonstrated what damage can be done if that urge is resisted.
This is something Liverpool must keep in mind ahead of their New Year clash with City at the Etihad.
Jurgen Klopp’s side haven’t been playing especially well either and so they must ramp up their performances in preparation for that season-defining clash on January 3.
In terms of personnel and squad options, City are in even better shape than they were last season. The summer addition of Riyad Mahrez has given them a different dimension in the final third, with January signing Aymeric Laporte now settled and established as one of the best centre backs in the Premier League. David Silva is back at his best, while Benjamin Mendy, while injured at the moment, has given City something on the left wing that they lacked last term.
Early on this season, it looked like Man City might raise their level even further. Guardiola’s men set a Premier League points record last season, but on the basis of their early performances it seemed possible that this could be bettered. That might still be the case, given that City are still winning and winning well, but some chinks have started to appear in the armour.
It might not be long before somebody pokes a sword through.