Every October a team is appointed champions elect. Often a rash, reactionary naming after a tidal wave of early season hype, it seems to – more often than not – prove to be a foolish misjudgement based on results and short-term form.
It has happened prematurely to most of the top six clubs on one occasion or another. Manchester City have suffered the cursed fate before, and this year are having their name engraved in the trophy by some before Halloween has even passed.
11 matches into the 2017/18 Premier League season, Pep Guardiola’s side are on course to break every imaginable record. The swooning at their otherworldly football is justified. With 31 points, 38 goals scored, and only seven conceded, the two-time Premier League winners are winning with a panache we rarely see in England.
Pressure For Early Favourites
City were pre-season favourites for many, but the question that haunted their credentials was how their defence would cope. And, more specifically, how it would cope in the absence of Vincent Kompany. Until Stoke had the audacity to nick a couple of goals in their 7-2 drubbing last month, Guardiola’s team had let in just two, with Kompany having appeared in only three matches.
Sergio Aguero’s fitness has been similarly depended on at the Etihad Stadium since he arrived in 2011. The Argentine’s absence has been hardly noticed thanks, in part, to the form – and sensational talent – of Gabriel Jesus. Ex-Liverpool midfielder and pundit Danny Murphy noted Jesus as the best young talent he’s seen since Lionel Messi. Praise indeed...
A few can stake a claim to that title, but the 20-year-old Brazilian is certainly in the Premier League Golden Boot discussion and he will be quietly confident of adding to his tally of seven in the near future.
City have been scoring goals for fun this season. Their attack has everything, from the pace of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, the guile of David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne, to the lethal finishing of Aguero and Jesus. Now paired with a seemingly secure defence, City are a complete team. Their goalkeeping crisis has even been nullified with the arrival of the calm Ederson.
Goals rarely tell the whole tale, but City’s ruthlessness offensively can elevate them beyond domestic football. Their defence can afford a relapse with their current attacking form, and, even then, their ability to dominate possession gives their backline protection.
Where their Premier League contemporaries will become frustrated, City never suffer from a creative block. Ideas flow between their midfield and their attack, as they move like one entity, picking holes in their opponent at will.
Champions Swept Aside
Chelsea tried absorbing all of City’s play, and there’s arguably no Premier League team set up better to do so. Antonio Conte’s side limited their chances, but could not get enough of the ball to even momentarily panic John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.
Guardiola has the five-star luxury of depth, especially in the final third. Should any team be able to limit their relentless chance creation, the vast quality will produce a moment of individual brilliance, just as De Bruyne did at Stamford Bridge.
Teams often have a whiff of invincibility early in the year. Guardiola’s team are one of the first to pose a significant threat to Arsenal’s USP, though. No Premier League squad has ever had this amount of quality in the attacking third, and the defence is solid even without Kompany and Benjamin Mendy.
City have deserved the plaudits. It could all come to a thunderous halt, but the performances thus far are as good as I can remember in the Premier League. Teams are not just being beaten, they are being dismantled. Kevin de Bruyne, almost a shoo-in to record more assists than any of his Premier League peers this season, almost single-handedly put Stoke to the sword in City's demolition job last month.
An unbeaten season has become a holy grail, and it is probably far too great an ask, though reasonable to suggest as a possibility. To say it is already City’s to lose, however, is no exaggeration. Their lead is up to eight points already and they are playing majestic football bordering on the unstoppable.
As Good As Anyone
October hyperbole has frequently been greeted with a hindsight giggle. Of all the early season fliers, though, Manchester City are the best we have seen. There might be a lengthy code to solve the puzzle opposition managers are faced with, but no manager has come close to toppling City in the first couple of months.
The once-overshadowed neighbours are the noisiest of all right now, and so they should be. City are playing joyous, jaw-dropping football. In De Bruyne they have perhaps the world’s best midfielder, and in the dugout they have a man whose place in footballing history is already cemented.
Guardiola has us watching in awe. The Spaniard has the talent at his disposal, but his brilliance is in how that talent is utilised and the spectacle it produces.
Trophies seem an inevitability for City this season. It’s simply a case of which ones. The longer this all-conquering, goal-heavy football continues, the higher the chance of a truly historic season becomes.
If ever the sweeping, autumnal, headline statements are deserved, it is for this Manchester City team.
*Odds subject to change*