Will Manchester City repeat? Not so fast

English football has never seen a team more dominant than Manchester City in the year 2017/2018. The “Centurions” are unique as they were the first team in England to accrue 100 points. This level of dominance saw them become one the most feared teams in the world, and many predicted things would be the same for years to come.

The Pep Factor

Manchester City finished last year’s season with what many people believe is unachievable ever again. Out of the 38 matches played, City won 32, drew four, and lost only two. Pep Guardiola, Manchester City’s manager, is the one responsible for making City rack up so much success as a team. His philosophy of high-intensity pressing and a lot of ball possession was doubted when he first came to Manchester City two years ago. Critics were taking into consideration that he asserted the same level of dominance in Germany and Spain with Bayern Munich and Barcelona, but they believed it was impossible to do the same in England. Yet, Guardiola proved them wrong. Shaun Wright-Phillips, a former Manchester City player, believes Guardiola got the time to “mold [his team] into his style of play,” and the results have paid off.

Players turned Superstars

Pep Guardiola believes the key to winning is to train more, and train not just 11 players but the whole squad. Manchester City has impressive squad depth (players on the bench who can replace the players in the field without much loss in skill), which was crucial for sustaining top form throughout the season. But a few players really turned into key players for Guardiola and who are pivotal for Guardiola’s playstyle. The engine of the team, Kevin De Bruyne, is one of them. He is a “fighter” on and off the ball as Guardiola would describe him. He was nominated for “PFA Players Player of the Season” for his contributions.

Another player pivotal for Guardiola’s system is Raheem Sterling, who scored 18 goals last season. Among those 18, he saved City by scoring the winner after 90 minutes three times and equalized once, which saved City 7 points. The Englishman’s talent was overlooked during his time at Liverpool, but Guardiola saw the superstar in him. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City’s all-time top scorer, produced another fruitful season with 21 goals in the Premier League.

Manchester City might have been deemed immortal and expected to dominate in the foreseeable future, but their run in the Champions League and the rise of Liverpool and Chelsea might prevent them from replicating last season.

Champions League setback

The whole of Premier league was ready to accept City as the champions, but Guardiola had something more in mind. Champions League. This is where all the elite teams from Europe compete to claim themselves as the “King of Europe.” Manchester City’s best run in this competition was reaching the Round of 16 during Guardiola’s first season. But hopes were high as they looked unstoppable this time. They steamrolled past every team they faced and were favorites for the trophy. But when quarterfinals came, things turned out to be different. They were shell-shocked by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool which thrashed City 3-0 at Anfield (Liverpool’s home stadium). This was the start of a drought, expected by none, for Manchester City. They lost their next two games as well, where Manchester United and Liverpool both beat them 2-1. This showed signs of vulnerability, exposed mainly by Jurgen Klopp.

The Rise of Liverpool

Manchester City went unbeaten more than halfway through the season and it seemed as though they were invincible. But on Jan. 14, Liverpool stunned City by scoring four past them while City could only get back three. This scoreline meant they were no longer unbeaten. This win for Liverpool was mainly due to the similarity both the teams play with. Counter-attacking football was key as both are the two best teams which can play with such high intensity. Even though City enjoyed 65 percent of the ball possession, Liverpool capitalized on City’s passing errors by using the pace of the lethal strikers Liverpool posed. The front three of Liverpool, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah, scored a total of 57 goals in last year’s Premier League campaign. Goalscoring was no problem for Liverpool as only Manchester City bested their tally. Defensive errors were what Liverpool suffered from the most. But this year, Liverpool seem to be stable at the back, having spent big but wise, last transfer window in the summer. They brought in a much-needed keeper in Alison Becker and two more defensive midfielders, which will largely help in strengthening the back. They spent a total of 167.9 million pounds, the highest in the league. This, to me, shows ambition from Liverpool owners, FSG (Fenway Sports Group), who are willing to back Jurgen Klopp and his decisions. Klopp has finally got all the players he has wanted during his three years at Liverpool, and his finished article seems to be performing at the highest level. The desire and hunger are clear within the players and the club as they haven’t won a league title in 28 years. But this year looks theirs as Klopp’s men are currently seven wins out of seven games played.

Chelsea’s new found form

Alongside Liverpool, Chelsea were the highest spenders in the transfer window in the summer. Having acquired a new manager, they looked towards a new goalkeeper and a playmaker. Chelsea announced the arrival of Maurizio Sarri, who was brought in to be the manager. His famous playstyle, widely known as “Sarriball,” a high-intensity and quick passing style of play can really revolutionize Chelsea as the previous manager Antonio Conte had put up a defensive mindset in the team. But I think Chelsea are better suited to play more attacking football with high-quality players such as Eden Hazard, N’golo Kante, and Jorginho, who can definitely take this philosophy into the Premier League and punish many teams. Chelsea also has an upper hand in chasing for the title as they do not play Champions League like City or Liverpool. They play in a lower standard known as Europa League, which should give Chelsea more fresh legs and players in better physical condition.

Manchester City is not going to be easy to put down this season either. They still have the same squad from last year who proved their worth. Even if they do fall off to some extent, they can easily bounce back when Kevin De Bruyne comes back from a three-month injury. They also have the finance required to fix issues come January transfer window. They do have magnificent backup players in Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, while also having star players like Aguero and David Silva who can change the whole game.

Liverpool might not keep up the hot form they had at the end of last season as their top scorer Mohamed Salah isn’t finding the back of the net as much as he was doing last season. I think he set the standards too high and his desperation to do the same will cost him and his team dearly.

Chelsea always tends to do well whenever they get a new manager, but they get lucky with injuries as their star players always seem to be up to the mark when needed. If Eden Hazard, Chelsea’s forward, is out for even a few weeks, it might be too much for Chelsea to recover from as Hazard contributes almost one goal every game. He has had a phenomenal start with the campaign but Chelsea relies too heavily on him.

Manchester City does have the pedigree to be feared as they are still performing as expected but Liverpool and Chelsea will chase hard for the title as they have caught up with the quality of the players and tactical philosophies. It will be a three-horse race for sure.

Edited by Arushi Ramesh

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