Midway through the second international break of the season, champions Manchester City find themselves once again at the top of the table, though currently ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea on goal difference.
After Liverpool’s uncharacteristic splurge in the summer and Pep’s penchant for building winning machines, many people had foreseen a two-way battle between Liverpool and Manchester City for the title. But Sarri has settled in remarkably quickly in England and the Blues seem to have taken to his philosophy like a duck to water. They are now firmly in the mix while Arsenal’s winning run has made some of the fans hopeful of a possible title tilt.
While Liverpool and Chelsea look strong and consistent enough to go all the way, today we will focus on Manchester City and look at 2 reasons we feel make them favourites for the title once again this year.
PEP GUARDIOLA’S OBSESSION FOR SILVERWARE
Roberto Manchini ended City’s wait of 44 years for the Premier League title while Manuel Pellegrini made sure that the football fraternity doesn’t consider the win as a fluke. But both of them failed to follow it up with a strong defence of the title. While the Sky Blues were better off than Leicester City and Chelsea in the season following the win, which was the result of a terrific core of players brought to the club under Mancini, City’s failure to dominate as champions has been used justifiably in their comparisons with Manchester United.
But Pep is made of a different mettle. He has won 7 league titles in 10 years and 26 major silverware in all. His hunger for excellence and the thirst for perfection has rubbed off on his team. It is clear in the camp that anything other than a successful defence of the trophy will be considered a major disappointment.
THE TEAM LOOKS TACTICALLY ELASTIC
Pep’s possession-based football interspersed with risky and open gameplay was more than enough to decimate teams last season. But the much publicised lopsided stats when Liverpool stood in front of City showed that the Sky Blues were beatable. Liverpool got the better of City on 3 occasions out of 4 last season dumping them out of Europe and ending their unbeaten streak in the league. With a high energy midfield and a devastating front 3, Liverpool tore apart City time and again to leave Pep dissatisfied despite an extraordinary season.
But the fixture against Liverpool early on this season has dispelled the notion that Pep will be steadfast in his approach even if it means surrendering 3 points against a direct rival. Yes, the 0-0 draw was an anticlimax after a week of nerves and excitement. But no, Pep did not park the bus but this was as close to parking anything on the football pitch as Pep will get. City brought down the adventure quotient down a couple of notches and simply killed the atmosphere at Anfield with their steady, solid and risk-free play.
The passes were shorter, the players hardly abandoned their fixed positions, the fullbacks resisted their urge successfully to bomb forward whenever they had the ball. The result was that Pep came agonisingly close to scripting a historic win at Anfield which remained unfulfilled due to Mahrez’s unfortunate penalty miss.
So in addition to steamrolling teams, eking out difficult wins against ultra-defensive teams, Pep is now familiarising himself with the tools to deal with high energy teams like Liverpool which bodes extremely well for the league as well as for Europe.
Thus the Pep effect is something which is evident more and more with each passing game and it will be a brave decision on anyone’s part to bet money against the blue half of Manchester this season.