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Premier League: Can Manchester City be stopped by Chelsea or Liverpool in title race?

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Manchester City are understood to be staying in London for New Year, with just three days splitting their matches at Brentford and Arsenal.

Pep Guardiola isn’t likely to allow any kind of revelry to ring in 2022 – just look at what happened when Jack Grealish and Phil Foden had a night out recently – but spirits in the camp will be high.

City have ended the year as they started it – relentlessly winning football matches and taking control of the Premier League title race in the process.

Manchester City have moved six points clear at the top of the Premier League over Christmas

Manchester City have moved six points clear at the top of the Premier League over Christmas

It's City's title to lose from here with Pep Guardiola's side on a nine-match winning run

It’s City’s title to lose from here with Pep Guardiola’s side on a nine-match winning run

Already six clear of Liverpool and Chelsea, that margin could increase on Wednesday night

Already six clear of Liverpool and Chelsea, that margin could increase on Wednesday night

They have won their last nine league games and if they make it 10 at Brentford on Wednesday night, the worst-case scenario is that they will be six points clear at the top of the table.

In the unlikely event that Chelsea lose at home to Brighton, that margin could be as much as nine, but the fact remains – it is already City’s title to lose this season.

There were plenty of Liverpool fans happy to concede the championship to Guardiola’s side for a second consecutive season after they went down 1-0 at Leicester City on Tuesday.

Jurgen Klopp acknowledged afterwards that it is already a ‘big gap’ to City and there’s undoubtedly no margin for error for both Liverpool or Chelsea now.

It’s all very reminiscent of last season when City went 19 league games – the equivalent to half a season – undefeated between late November and early March, winning all but two of those and cruising effortlessly clear.

Liverpool's defeat at Leicester on Tuesday came as a massive blow to their title aspirations

Liverpool’s defeat at Leicester on Tuesday came as a massive blow to their title aspirations

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp cuts a frustrated figure on the touchline at the King Power

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp cuts a frustrated figure on the touchline at the King Power

Now it appears they’re sliding into top gear once again and what’s even more ominous is that Guardiola said he only had 14 outfield players available before the Boxing Day fixture with Leicester City.

27 minutes in and they were 4-0 up, ultimately going on to win 6-3 with five different scorers. 

If that’s a depleted City team then good luck to opponents when they’re at full strength.

The reasons why City will win a fourth Premier League title in five seasons are compelling. But is there any way they can be stopped?

Actually, Leicester may offer some hope despite their heavy defeat. Having gone four down, they scored the next three goals, during a 10-minute second-half spell in which City looked genuinely vulnerable.

In all, the Foxes managed 14 shots and eight on target despite enjoying only 28 per cent of the ball, showing that City can be exposed on the counter-attack. With the scoreline at 4-3, it was anyone’s game.

Leicester did manage to expose some City weaknesses but still shipped six on Boxing Day

Leicester did manage to expose some City weaknesses but still shipped six on Boxing Day

Chelsea are trying to keep pace with City but Thomas Tuchel's side dropped points this month

Chelsea are trying to keep pace with City but Thomas Tuchel’s side dropped points this month

Next six for the top three 

Premier League games only 

MAN CITY

Wed Brentford (A)

Saturday Arsenal (A)

Jan 15 Chelsea (H)

Jan 22 Southampton (A)

Feb 9 Brentford (H)

Feb 12 Norwich (A) 

LIVERPOOL

Sunday Chelsea (A)

Jan 16 Brentford (H)

Jan 23 Palace (A)

Feb 10 Leicester (H)

Feb 13 Burnley (A)

Feb 19 Norwich (H)

CHELSEA

Weds Brighton (H)

Sun Liverpool (H)

Jan 15 Man City (A)

Jan 23 Spurs (H)

Feb 19 Palace (A)

Feb 26 Leicester (H)

If a Leicester side ravaged by illness and injury could have City on the ropes, then so could Arsenal and Chelsea in City’s next two league games after Brentford.

While City will be overwhelming favourites to beat the Bees, they could potentially drop points against a resurgent Arsenal on New Year’s Day and fellow title challengers Chelsea at the Etihad on January 15.

These games will be key – if City win both, they’re steaming clear at the top. But if they stumble, both Chelsea and Liverpool will be breathing down their neck again.

Liverpool will certainly be hoping they slip up given they’re about to be hit hard by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane – 31 goals between them in all competitions this season so far – heading off to the Africa Cup of Nations.

City will lose Riyad Mahrez to the Africa Cup of Nations but have more than enough to cope

City will lose Riyad Mahrez to the Africa Cup of Nations but have more than enough to cope

Liverpool, meanwhile, are set to lose their two top scorers - Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah

Liverpool, meanwhile, are set to lose their two top scorers – Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah

City will lose only Riyad Mahrez, of Algeria, to the tournament, which gets underway in Cameroon on January 9. While Mahrez is their top scorer this season, they have so much attacking strength it doesn’t feel like such a big loss.

Chelsea, as it happens, are also pretty lightly affected with just goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, of Senegal, going away. Kepa Arrizabalaga has played a handful of games this season and will step in.

The depth of quality in City’s squad means they are also best equipped to ride out any Covid or injury storms that come their way in the second half of the season.

Guardiola was able to start both Grealish and Foden on the bench for the Leicester game and still see his team score six times. They have also scored seven against Leeds and four at Newcastle in the past fortnight alone.

They may have been forced to stock the bench with youth team players but when your starting line-up boasts the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling, plus you can call on Grealish, Foden and Gabriel Jesus from the subs, it really isn’t much of an issue.

City made light of the absence of Jack Grealish (left) and Phil Foden in the Leicester match

City made light of the absence of Jack Grealish (left) and Phil Foden in the Leicester match

The other thing working in City’s favour is that Chelsea and Liverpool meet on January 2, the day after their visit to the Emirates. 

For Guardiola and his players, particularly if they beat Arsenal, it will be feet up and see who drops the points.

It’s definitely City in the enviable position. They not only have remarkable squad depth but all the momentum and also the recent experience of getting over the finishing line in a Premier League title race.

But they are not totally infallible. Leicester were able to cut through them and put them under serious pressure; Arsenal and Chelsea will look to do the same in upcoming games.

We’ll only be in January, with half the season left to play, but those fixtures could well represent the last chance to stop City cantering away to another title.

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