As the Premier League takes the international break, the last weekend was perhaps decisive in that it gave a preview of what one might expect for the rest of the season. Fittingly, the Super Sunday was billed as such, with Chelsea hosting Manchester United and Arsenal travelling to Manchester City.
1-0 and 3-1 home wins respectively mean that Manchester City are now eight points clear at the top with 31 points, ahead of United and Spurs who have 23 points. Also, the so-called Big Six are all now in the top six, as second placed Manchester United and Arsenal at sixth have a difference of four points between them – Burnley, at seventh, have 19 points as well.
What this resoundingly suggests is that not only is the league title City’s to lose, the five teams after them might be in a scramble for the three Champions League qualification places already, only 11 matches into the season.
It’s not that the chasing pack – especially United, Spurs and Chelsea – are bordering on shambles: 22-23 points after 11 games is not exactly a crisis. But it’s City that has sprinted so far ahead, dropping only two points in 11 games.
The tally of 31 points is the joint best for any English side in the Premier League era, which matches the tallies of City in 2011/12 and Chelsea 2005/06. Only the City side of 2011/12 managed to win 11 out of the first 12 matches – no Premier League side has ever won 12 out of the first 13.
With Leicester (A) and Huddersfield (A) as their next two league fixtures, there won’t be too many bets against City making it 12 out of 13. In fact, there is already talk of City perhaps going the entire season unbeaten.
Of course, there’s hyperbole involved, and yes it would be interesting to see how City respond to a shock result – should it come. After all, this time last year they were the unanimous favourites for the league and everyone’s team to beat.
But it is evident that City this year is more dominating than they were last year – and indeed more of a Pep Guardiola side in his second season at the club. They’ve already dominated Liverpool (5-0) and Arsenal (3-1) at home, and beat the champions Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge – City’s standout result of the season.
The City surge is not only orchestrated by proven names like David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne – the Premier League player of the season so far – pulling the strings in the attacking third, but also youngsters like Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus, who have been integral features of City’s all-conquering play.
That Jesus has been trusted to start in place of Sergio Aguero, and even come on to replace him in many matches, shows the volume of belief that Guardiola has in the 20-year-old – which, of course, is being duly repaid.
If and when City slip up could also depend on if any of the chasing pack puts any pressure on them. Of the three behind them, United have been touted as the closest challenger, but they head into the international break on a veritable low after the defeat against Chelsea.
That it came a week after the 1-0 win against Spurs was a blow for United, with echoes of whether or not Jose Mourinho’s side can match any of the top six clubs – especially away from home – reverberating. That Mourinho doesn’t have an away win against any of the Big Six in his time at United is also telling.
However, the fact that Paul Pogba is returning from injury, and United should have Zlatan Ibrahimovic back by December could be a much-needed boost, even if Mourinho’s side are now reliant on City slipping up.
On the flipside, the win against United means that Chelsea have managed to shrug off the noise of conflict at Stamford Bridge. Following the heavy defeat away to AS Roma in the Champions League, Antonio Conte came under heavy fire – but with the league campaign back on track, a string of wins domestically could push Chelsea back into the title race and give them impetus to bounce back in Europe.
Tottenham Hotspurs, meanwhile, have destroyed Liverpool and Real Madrid at home over the past three weeks, and could very easily have beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford even without Harry Kane. If there’s one side that can come close to matching City’s play, it’s Spurs. They also happen to be the only side that has been a part of the title race in both the previous seasons.
The 3-1 win against Madrid would definitely have increased Spurs’ ambitions on all fronts, but they too would need a serious dip in City’s form to have any hope of catching them.
The week between December 10-16 could be crucial in determining whether or not it’s a one-horse race for the league title, as Spurs travel to City on December 16, a week after the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford.
If City still have a lead of eight points (or more) come the festive fixtures, it’s hard to see anyone coming close come May.