By MICHAEL CONG
Time really flies. It seems like just yesterday when Sergio Aguero’s dramatic late-winner against the Queens Park Rangers snatched the 2011-12 title for Manchester City. In reality, 6 years have now passed. After 27 rounds of top- flight football, Manchester City are the runaway leaders, finding themselves at the top of the table with 72 points from a possible 81.
Pep Guardiola has certainly adapted to the English style of play and adjusted his tactics accordingly — they look unstoppable at the moment, having scored a staggering 79 goals so far, averaging 2.92 a game. Currently, Manchester City have one game in hand, and yet still lead cross-town rivals Manchester United by an eye-watering 13 points and Liverpool by 15. In other words, they effectively sealed the title just two thirds into the season.
Recently, Guardiola has also led them to what must be the first of many silverware under his reign, the EFL cup, after defeating Arsenal by 3 goals to nil. At this stage, all that remains to complete the coveted continental treble is the Champions League, something they’ve never won in their 138 year history.
They’ve been absolutely deadly in front of goal, with names such as Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane terrorizing the opposition. A large part of that is down to midfielders having provided them with plenty of quality passes and deliveries. Kevin De Bruyne has registered 14 assists, 4 more than teammate Sane, while experienced and cultured Spanish playmaker David Silva comes in not far behind with 8.
Last season, their Achilles heel was error-prone defense. Guardiola has largely solved that problem this campaign, bringing in Ederson. The 24-year-old Brazilian has already kept 11 clean sheets in 27 appearances, making 44 saves, including a last-minute Luca Milojevic penalty at Crystal Palace, and conceding just 20 in the process.
Nevertheless, as with any team, Manchester City also has weaknesses that can be exploited. They’ve been held to draws by Everton and Crystal Palace, the Eagles having ended City’s record-breaking 18 straight wins with a spirited display home at Selhurst Park, which ended scoreless. The 4-3 loss to Liverpool (which ended hopes of an undefeated Premier League season), though, has outlined a gaping weakness in their lineup: Left-Back. Benjamin Mendy isn’t due to return from injury until April, and none of his stand-ins look particularly comfortable in the role. Whether this will be exploited by other managers remains to be seen.
Finally, the match contested between Manchester City and Leicester a few weeks ago, despite having ended in a thrashing to the away side, featured visiting manager Claude Puel surprisingly deploying a back three complemented by wingbacks. Leicester initially did well, creating a handful of chances. However, Puel’s decision to bring on Danny Simpson after the break and change to four at the back proved to be disastrous, as the 5-1 scoreline suggests. Point being, as mentioned previously, wide play is a key part of Guardiola’s sides, so if teams sit deep and centrally, work hard, defend well, do not give them space to cross or dribble inside, and are threatening on counter- attacks, it is entirely possible to keep the league leaders at bay.
Some might call them a club with neither history nor loyal fans, but the overwhelming truth is that they have a relatively young squad with loads of depth, a magnificent manager, and rich owners willing to spend on world-class players. Therefore, as long as things go according to plan, it’s not difficult to see them dominating the league for years to come.