The Season So Far
There has never been such a dominant start to a Premier League season as this from Pep Guardiola’s supreme Manchester City. It’s nearly Christmas and they’ve only dropped two points, amassing a surely unassailable eleven-point lead after firing in fifty-two goals in the opening seventeen games, demonstrating in victories over their title rivals, each more comprehensive than the last, that there is now a chasm between City and Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. Tottenham Hotspur are the latest
lamb to be sent to the slaughter rival tasked with the seemingly impossible.
It’s hard to pick out one highlight in a season which has arguably just been one long, neverending highlight, but City’s late winners, seemingly all scored by Raheem Sterling, have been powerful reminders that this isn’t just a team of high-end technical artistes, but one with the requisite amount of steel and resilience to make the jump from extraordinary to epochal. A sense is growing that it doesn’t matter the challenge faced or the circumstances which are against them – this Manchester City side will find the way to win.
Likewise, a standout performer is hard to identify among a squad of players all having the season of their lives. David Silva, for years the Premier League’s best player, is maintaining his mastery of the midfield in his central role; Kevin De Bruyne has made a huge leap up to reach Silva’s level of domination and productivity; Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané have each become truly decisive from the wings; Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus never know which one of them will play, but whoever does always scores; defenders John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi, much maligned before the season’s start, have both been excellent and contributed vital goals to boot; goalkeeper Ederson, playing one of the most unique and demanding roles in football as Pep Guardiola’s sweeper-keeper, has barely put a foot wrong. It’s been truly special.
The Season Ahead
The possibilities are limitless: the Premier League title race is as close to over as it possibly can be at this time of year and a very favourable Champions League draw has seen City installed as favourites to lift the European Cup. The traditional powers – Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus – are all in decline and face tough climbs back to the summit regardless of their enduring quality, while Paris Saint-Germain’s draw, along with their own growing identity crisis and political in-fighting, are likely to do for their European challenge before long.
The minimum expectation will surely be for Manchester City to lift the Premier League trophy, preferably as soon as possible, and then focus on their European adventures and maybe even the FA Cup. Being favourites on so many fronts, and with a genuine chance of emulating or even better Man Utd’s 1999 treble, will surely see them try to add Alexis Sánchez to their squad, perhaps as soon as January. If they do manage to bring Alexis in at the second time of asking, the rest of the Premier League may as well pack up and go home until August 2018.
Everyone knows Guardiola’s game now: it’s a fluid, interchanging 4-3-3 with mesmerising positional interchange and immaculate technical use of the ball.
Tottenham have shown against Real Madrid that they can still win despite having little of the ball and having to live off of their counterattacking prowess, and this will be the order of the day here.
The problem for Spurs, as many other sides have found to their cost this season, is that if Guardiola realises Plan A isn’t working or is exposing City to danger, he can switch to a Plan B, a Plan C, a Plan D or even a Plan E which is arguably as good as his original idea.
Theirs is complete and utter domination: Manchester City have averaged the most possession of any Premier League side so far this season; they have the highest pass accuracy; the second most dribbles; the most shots; the most shots on target; the most goals from set-pieces; the second most penalties given.
Although they almost never give the ball away, they’re nearly as good without the ball as they are with it: their pressing game is close to reaching the levels that Pep’s Barcelona and Bayern Munich sides managed and the results are there for all to see: they have allowed the fewest shots on their goal of any Premier League side so far this season.
If nothing else works, they’ve got almost all of the best players in the Premier League, and one of them will score a late goal to win the game at the last.
There are many parallels between Manchester City and the Death Star, and one is that their one weakness is their centre, which is liable to self-destruct once the outer shield is breached. That is to say, if Tottenham can get through City’s initial press, the defence could well do something very stupid and gift them a goal.
Last week’s defensive calamity for Marcus Rashford’s goal in the Manchester Derby was a case in point: a simple punt down the middle of the pitch bamboozled Otamendi and provoked panic in Fabian Delph, and Rashford was left with a gilt-edged chance to score.
While a full-strength side played midweek against Swansea, we should expect a similar eleven here as City aim to put yet another marker of their greatness down against another challenger.
This is the impossible job for Spurs. Simply taking a point here would be a bonus. With so many key personnel unavailable or looking exhausted, it’s impossible to predict anything other than a Man City victory. Sorry, Spurs fans.