We were all promised the most competitive Premier League title race in years, maybe even ever. Four teams, as most saw it before the start of the 2021/22 season, were capable of challenging for top spot with Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all kicking off with silverware in their sights. A lot has changed since then.
In fact, the season billed as the most competitive on record is at risk of becoming a one-horse race, that runaway leader being Manchester City. There might only be three points between Pep Guardiola’s team in top spot and the chasing pack, led by Liverpool, but there is a growing sense the defending champions won’t be caught.
This might have been the weekend in which City made the decisive move, collecting three points when Chelsea and Liverpool failed to. Manchester United dropped away before they’d even got going, with the Old Trafford club even changing manager, but the weekend before Christmas may have reduced three to one.
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Of course, it would be foolish to completely discount two teams of Chelsea and Liverpool’s quality so early in the season. All three title contenders still have 20 fixtures left to play. Nothing can be taken for granted, especially in the current climate where Covid-19 has added another layer of volatility and unpredictability.
But while Chelsea are struggling for defensive solidity, City have kept clean sheets in three consecutive Premier League matches. While Liverpool face the loss of key figures such as Naby Keita, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah due to the Africa Cup of Nations in early 2022, the defending Premier League champions boast an unparalleled squad depth. The odds are stacked in City’s favour.
Guardiola’s Manchester City are a well-oiled machine. Everyone in the Etihad Stadium dressing room knows what is expected of them on the pitch with Guardiola a master at making good players great - see Joao Cancelo, Rodri and Bernando Silva, all of whom have reached new heights this season.
Having won three Premier League titles in the last four seasons, Manchester City are on the brink of building a dynasty to rival anything else witnessed in the English game. A fourth title in five years would match something only ever achieved in the Premier League era by Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
At their best, there isn’t much to separate Chelsea, City and Liverpool. Thomas Tuchel’s team got the better of Manchester City in last season’s Champions League final before Guardiola and his players came away from Stamford Bridge with a victory just days before a 2-2 draw against Liverpool.
The difference, however, is that City are able to find their best form more frequently. Guardiola might still have questions to answer in the Champions League, where his team have yet to make their breakthrough, but Manchester City’s consistency in domestic terms is unprecedented, particularly given the Premier League’s current strength and quality.
City could accelerate even further away from the competition over the coming weeks with a mid-January fixture at home to Chelsea an opportunity to all but eliminate Tuchel’s side, already six points adrift, from title contention. Merely staying within touching distance might be the best Chelsea can hope for right now.
This period might also prove critical for Liverpool, who have testing fixtures against Chelsea and Arsenal at a time when AFCON call-ups could stretch their squad. Jurgen Klopp’s team have a trip to the Etihad Stadium scheduled for early April, but who’s to say City won’t have established an unassailable advantage by then? If this weekend is anything to go by, that is a distinct possibility.
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