After recently hitting form thanks to the arrival of precocious Brazilian phenom Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City are in a position where they could, theoretically, go on to win the league. Here’s why that probably won’t happen.
You’ve got to feel a little sorry for Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Along with the on-again, off-again relationship his side have had with the Premier League this season, he’s had to endure 30 minutes a week, divided between two press conferences a few post-match interviews, basically saying the exact same things over and over again. Give me time, player X is a great player, we want to win games, I don’t want to sell Sergio Aguero, we are too far behind Chelsea to catch up. It’s as tiresome for him as for us, you’d think some pundit would take a break and ask him about why his match day jacket has so many zippers or why Barcelona have fallen off a cliff this season.
That last comment of Pep’s though, about Chelsea being too far ahead to catch, is quite interesting though. For a start, several of the other managers of teams in the top 6 have basically said the same thing, in various different ways.
People will praise the uncharacteristic humility of United’s Jose Mourinho saying it’s Chelsea’s title to lose, despite that really being a pointed barb of sorts, but it’s easy to talk that way when you’re 12 points adrift. For City, well, 8 points isn’t terrible but it’s not insurmountable, indeed they’ve done it before.
You could argue a case for City catching Chelsea can only really be made off the basis that at this time City happen to be slightly closer than the rest of the bunch, but there’s more to it than that. For a start, while the rest of the top teams have seen various levels of inconsistency over the last few weeks, it is the Blues who are starting to actually put the wins together week after week.
Their points build-up from the ten match win streak early on was enough to keep Pep’s team in the hunt even when losses and draws were mounting up, now they seem to have found their feet again.
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Indeed, overall Manchester City have shown much promise despite their glaring flaws. Their overall possession of 60.6% is far and above the rest of the Premier League and is fourth in Europe.
So far, City have completed more passes than all but Liverpool in the league but have a vastly higher completion percentage. Almost every metric shows City at the top, or nearly at the top of the charts in the league, even many of the defensive related statistics. That, however, is only the beginning.
What gives City fans perhaps a glimmer of hope that something amazing can happen, as happened when they overturned a late 8 point deficit to snatch the league from United in 2011/2012, is form. Guardiola’s side are the only team in the league to win their last three games in the competition and their last six games record (4W, 1D, 1L) is better than any other team in the top pack. You could argue that matchups against Bournemouth, Swansea and West Ham aren’t so inspiring, yet these are exactly the teams snatching points off the clutches of City’s title rivals.
So why then, does Pep think, and I happen to agree with him, Manchester City won’t be able to catch Chelsea? Any number of small reasons could be given such as too big a gap between the two still, City only play Chelsea one more time, Chelsea have been too consistent overall to drop that many points, injuries to key players such as Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan etc. All that’s fine, but the truth, which Guardiola himself would never say publicly, is that City as they are currently aren’t good enough.
We’ve talked before about the players Pep has been handed, the legacy of his predecessor’s predecessor Mancini, being either unable or unwilling to perform and execute his desires. That’s one point, but one has to admit to an even more alarming fact – City have possibly the most lacklustre defence in the top six which, given Liverpool are there, is really saying something.
I mean, playing Fernandinho at Left Back two games in a row should tell you how difficult it is for Guardiola to find quality cover for the position. Throw in aging options like Gael Clichy, Alex Kolarov, Vincent Kompany or Bacary Sagna alongside the talented, but still error prone John Stones, and you’ve got a team that looks very suspect at the back. That’s even before we talk about hapless goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
I have no doubt that this situation will be fully rectified in the summer transfer window, allowing Pep his chance to build a strong, young and quality side from back to front, but for now Manchester City have who they have and that’s it. In the end, it’s hard to see the Blues continuing to succeed and Chelsea simultaneously fail spectacularly, particularly as City have arguably a harder run-in. Nonetheless, it’s impressive for Guardiola’s side to have found themselves in this position despite all the caveats of their squad and, if not hope for a title this year, it certainly increases the expectation for one in years to come.