At one stage this season it was looking like the Premier League title was well and truly up for grabs. No side was able to put together any kind of meaningful run of form, with the demanding nature of pandemic football taking its toll on every squad. It was difficult for those who bet on the English Premier League to have any idea which way the title race was going to swing.
But over the last few weeks, Manchester City have been unflappable, and a run of ten successive wins in the Premier League means they are now the clear favourites to win a third Premier League crown in four years. And in the end, it’s no surprise really that Pep Guardiola has rediscovered the formula that helped City win the title so impressively for two consecutive seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Although they lost out to Liverpool last season, there was never a sense that City had had their fill of Premier League success.
The biggest challenge for any elite-level manager is to bring a team back from the doldrums after it seems as though the magic has evaporated. That is what Guardiola was faced with last season – his team had lost their ability to blow teams away on a consistent basis, and nine league defeats spoke volumes about the once unimpeachable Premier League champions. Indeed, Liverpool manager Jürgen Kloppis facing the same challenge this season, as his team struggles to display the same winning mentality that led them to the title last year.
City are the beneficiaries of Liverpool’s struggles, and their current form in the league suggests that Guardiola has discovered the secret to consistency in the midst of the pandemic. It would be wrong to suggest that City’s season so far has been defined by the kind of swashbuckling football that took the league by storm in their record-breaking 2017-18 season, but instead they have become the kind of winning machine that Klopp’s Liverpool represented last season. Although they have not always been at their best, they have ground out victories at important moments where perhaps last season they would have lost or drawn.
Those marginal gains are the key to streaking clear at the top of the table in a season where most teams are racked by fatigue and inconsistency. Manchester United would appear to be City’s biggest title challengers, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side have found it difficult to display the kind of ruthless qualities that City have boasted.
It would be no surprise between now and the end of the season to see City pull further clear from the chasing pack. After all, they have proved themselves excellent frontrunners in the past. Liverpool pushed them all the way in the 2018-19 season, and although the Reds matched City’s supreme dominance right to the end, the Manchester club’s one-point buffer remained intact all the way to the winning line.
Expect a similar story this season. City are in a winning mood and show little sign of slipping up. In this strange season a capitulation can never be ruled out, but there is a sense that Guardiola has learned lessons from last season and will not allow his team to slip into the kind of rut that would cost them the title. City lost their winning habit last season, but what was lost has now been found.