It’s been a confusing weekend for the Premier League as both Liverpool and Chelsea seem to have won the title before Christmas. To add to the confusion, the celebrations suggest that Manchester City have been relegated to the Conference North, where the big local derby will be a hotly contested game against Barrow on a rainy Tuesday night. If anything, City’s defeat doesn’t make the gap between them and everyone else smaller, it demonstrates just how huge the gulf between Guardiola’s team and the rest of the pack truly is. OK - City lost, fair enough, but that’s only part of the story. The last time a football team saw fans as over-the-top excited about a home victory was when League Two Stevenage beat Premier League Newcastle in the FA Cup in 2011. Of course, Stevenage didn’t win the FA Cup, but it was sweet revenge against an adversary who had cheated them out of a famous victory in 1998 – a sweet moment of justice that had taken years to occur and fans’ were euphoric, just as they should be when a giant is killed. This is how the gulf between Manchester City and the rest of the Premier League shone this weekend.
We have a Liverpool team whose defense has vastly improved, conceding only 0.38 goals a game compared to a goal-a-game last season, but who lack danger from both a shots per game, and a goals-per-game perspective. Then there’s Chelsea. Eight points behind the leaders, they were played off the park for large portions of the game against City. They finished 5th last season, and are currently in 4th with a superior goals-per-game and goal-against-per-game tally. The other stats:
Liverpool and City both have 13 wins. Spurs (who will finish 2nd this season) have 12.
Shots? City are crushing it with 10% more than Chelsea, their closest rival in this category.
Goals? City have 10 more than Arsenal and 11 more than Liverpool.
What does this all mean?
In the real world, it means than City had a blip against another top of the table team. Last season they lost to Manchester United and Liverpool, and drew with Crystal Palace and Huddersfield. As much as Liverpool and Chelsea fans may want to talk about this being a demonstration of City’s mortality, this has always been on show.
In the real world, it shouldn’t be a shock for the team who won the Premier League just 2 years ago to win at home against the team who won the same competition last year. But for some reason this is a big deal, and social media even showed rival fans cheering for Chelsea. All of these reactions play into Guardiola’s hands for two reasons. Firstly, Guardiola previously said that he expects to lose games. It’s football, teams win and lose, and it’s not the end of the world when they do lose. There is no pressure on his team when they lose, but it is a wake-up call, and having dominated teams in the last few weeks, a bit of a humbling may be just what is needed.
Secondly, it demonstrates the dominance that Guardiola and City have. Back in the 90’s and early 00’s the most exciting rivalry for a neutral watch was United and Arsenal. There was fire and spice all over the field, especially when Keane and Vieira were involved. The winner celebrated, as you would expect, after a hard-fought win, appreciating the fact that a rival had been beaten. Who are City’s rivals? Who would be the team they want to beat because it’s an achievement? Obviously, there’s United, the historical local rivals, but are they a threat? Not even close. Sure, they won last season, one battle, but the season was over by then and they’re not a threat this season. Anyone else? Liverpool. Nope. They will do a Liverpool and fade in the New Year. It’s just what they do, except in 2014 when the legend, Gerrard, slipped the title to City with only 3 games to go. But even so, it’s what they do; they haven’t shown the consistency to win since the 80’s.
Chelsea may have won, but to overtake City they will need 8 more points than City this year, and will City drop 8 more points this season? Maybe. Probably not. The only other team is Spurs. Quietly going about their business, only 5 points behind and playing well; however they’re not consistent winners, they haven’t mounted a serious challenge, and there really isn’t much history, so there’s really nothing to build a rivalry from. The truth of the matter is that traditional rivals aren’t even close to the standard it takes to be rivals in a competitive sense, and the only teams who could claim any kind of competitive rivalry have no consistency and treat a win against City as a giant killing. City are currently in a league of their own from every perspective, and no one appears to have the psychological strength to consider them rivals, or simply don’t have the competitive ability to compete.
Who would you put your money on to challenge the champions?