IAN LADYMAN: Manchester City redefined the title standard and secured their place amid the league’s greatest ever teams – it will be very difficult to catch them this season
- Manchester City have set ridiculously high standards in recent seasons
- It will be very difficult for any side to catch Pep Guardiola’s side this campaign
- City have been pushed to rare levels by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in recent years
One of the greatest Premier League teams we have seen was the Manchester United team who won the treble in 1998-99. That team won the title with 79 points. More than two decades on, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side are on a trajectory that would earn them three more points than that total.
In terms of trying to claim this year’s championship, it is not likely to be anywhere near enough. This says much about the standards set in what we could describe as the Manchester City era. The reaction to Liverpool’s defeat at Leicester on Tuesday may have felt a little extreme. Liverpool played well enough against a good side but, unusually for them, did not take their chances.
But the reaction was as such simply because we live in an age where defeat represents disaster for any side hoping to beat City to the title.
The standards that Manchester City have managed to set in this era have been very high
Pep Guardiola’s team started this campaign with a defeat at Tottenham and have lost only once more since then. They are currently on a run of 10 successive league wins. They have scored 18 goals in their last four matches.
As a result, they are suddenly eight points clear at the top of the table which lends Sunday’s game between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge a rather ominous feel.
If City win at Arsenal on Saturday — they should do, given the Gunners’ struggles against really good teams — then whoever loses in west London on Sunday could face an insurmountable task to try to reel the current champions in.
To give this contest a ‘win or bust’ label sounds ridiculous. Liverpool have actually been in good form. They have the Premier League’s most potent player in Mo Salah. Chelsea, meanwhile, are the European champions and are progressive under coach Thomas Tuchel.
It will be very difficult for any team to catch Pep Guardiola’s side at the top this season
City have been pushed to rare levels by Liverpool in recent years but are set to prevail this time
But can we really expect City to lose more than a couple of times between now and the end of the season? It already feels unlikely, and this is the sobering reality for the two clubs in their immediate wake.
City have been pushed to rare levels by Liverpool in recent years. The last pre-pandemic title race of 2018-19 was won by City with a total of 98 points. Liverpool were second with 97. They remain our two best teams, Liverpool driven on by their attacking players and City by a squad depth that sustains them better than ever this season.
Guardiola makes much of the toll exerted by the fixture schedule but the truth is that his squad — assembled over the years by heavy and judicious spending — stands out as the one best equipped to cope by a distance.
Talk of the best teams of our lifetime is always interesting — even if it remains terribly hard to judge. The season after that treble triumph, United increased their levels admirably and retained their title with 91 points. That was the most they ever recorded in all those years of dominance under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Would that even be enough this time around? Well, City have 50 points already and the Christmas trees are still up.