At this same time last season, Manchester City were flying and the odds-on favorite to dethrone Chelsea. We all know how that turned out; with the Leicester City miracle story (and future Disney movie) taking center stage and the Citizens fading badly to finish in fourth place. This time around, City are again soaring at the top of the league, one of just two Premier League clubs without a loss and the only one that remains undefeated through six matches. They also have arguably the world’s best manager in Pep Guardiola and inarguably the most talented and complete roster in England. The bookmakers may have favored their “big” brother Manchester United at the start of the season, but now see City as the heavy title favorites. So it’s worth pondering the question—is the title already decided?
The obvious, and some would say, clear, answer is of course not. Six games do not make a season, as City have already proven, and there are a lot of incalculable events that can arise between now and May. Injuries, especially to key players, would be the most likely hindrance. With Kevin De Bruyne out for the next month, the Sky Blues will have a miniature test run of an extended period of games without one of their best players. And despite having a plethora of attacking talent most other teams would die for, long-term injuries to players like KDB, David Silva, or Sergio Agüero could throw off the balance of the team and allow the other contenders a foothold in a potential title challenge.
The other, and less likely, scenario is where City give away points through a poor patch of form that either lasts a couple games too long and/or comes at a crucial moment. A number of lethargic performances last season against lesser foes, and a surprising inability to beat (or even draw) against the other top teams culminated in a rotten second half of the year. Under Pep, it would be truly shocking to see the Citizens make the same mistake twice. For all of his talent as a tactical genius, which is undisputed, Guardiola also seems to possess an excellent eye for man-management (see Sterling, Raheem) and his will to win is more pronounced and surgical than his predecessor Manuel Pellegrini’s seemed to be. Where the Chilean would shrug and downplay his team’s bad losses, Pep will confront his players and demand better, and will thus make the likelihood of an apathetic finish shrink remarkably.
An interesting microcosm of this question will play itself out this weekend, when Manchester City travel to play second-placed side Tottenham Hotspur in a match that can show if both teams are really up for it. Arsenal were able to put in an excellent all-around display against Chelsea last weekend to formally announce their title intentions, and Spurs will look to do the same on Sunday. They boast the top defense in the Premier League and have a player in Son Heung-Min who cannot stop scoring at the moment. With an excellent manager of their own who has made it no secret how much he wants Tottenham to make up for their terrible finish last season, Spurs will see this game as their first real title test and should play accordingly. If City are able to see out a hard fought draw or pick up all three points, they will have at least maintained their five point gap at the top. They will also have already beaten two of their challengers, having already dispatched of United in the Manchester Derby. The pressure will then be amped up on anyone with championship aspirations, knowing that a Guardiola-helmed Manchester City aren’t likely to give away too many points to bottom half clubs.
That, in turn, could quickly lead to everyone looking up at the top of the table and asking themselves the same question—has City already won this thing?