Having pushed Manchester City all the way to the final game of last season’s campaign, this time around it’s Liverpool who are setting the pace. The Reds have won 13 and drawn 1 of their opening 14 games without defeat, opening up an 11-point gap at the top of the Premier League after City were held at St James’ Park by Newcastle United last weekend.
Some pundits and commentators are already suggesting that given their lead at the Premier League summit, the title is practically in the bag already for Liverpool. However, they also had a 9-point lead at the end of December last season after going 20 games unbeaten, before losing against City at the Etihad in January, which arguably proved to be the turning point of the 2018-19 campaign.
Perhaps the key difference this season is that Man City have already lost three games, including the significant 3-1 defeat away at Anfield early in November, which could give the team managed by Jurgen Klopp an important psychological advantage. That said, there’s still a very long way to go and much can happen
From record breakers to defensive concerns
After two seasons of domestic dominance, it’s hardly surprising to find that City remain popular in the live betting online football markets, with punters continuing to place great faith in Guardiola’s team. After all, this is largely the same core group of players that smashed numerous Premier League team records over the last couple of years.
Highest points, consecutive home and away wins, consecutive wins to finish a season, fewest games drawn, most goals scored, best goal difference; the list of Premier League records that City have matched or beaten is extensive for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, in which the team secured back to back titles. However, the 2019-20 campaign is turning out to be an entirely different beast.
While no team in the Premier League has scored more goals than Man City this season, and only Leicester City have matched the impressive +23 goal difference achieved after 14 games, City have clearly become vulnerable defensively compared to previous campaigns. Vincent Kompany departed in the summer and without signing a suitable replacement, Fernandinho was retrained as a centre-back and has impressed Guardiola, despite scepticism from others.
The knee injury suffered by Aymeric Laporte has left City without their best central defender, John Stones has been inconsistent and struggling with injury problems of his own, while Nicolas Otamendi hasn’t been anywhere near as reliable as he should be. These factors have led to Guardiola tinkering tactically, looking for solutions to the obvious defensive frailty.
One approach taken by Guardiola has been to place even more emphasis on attacking, and while this is certainly bold, in some games the defence has been left even more exposed, which isn’t helpful to an already weakened back line. The alternative approach has been to deploy Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri even deeper than they’re perhaps accustomed to playing, seeking to provide a little more defensive protection.
Given that neither approach has been entirely satisfactory, with City continuing to leak goals, there has inevitably been plenty of speculation linking the club with interest in several defensive targets. Nevertheless, signing someone who fits Guardiola’s preferences is another matter entirely, given his emphasis on playing a high defensive line with defenders who can offer quality distribution of the ball, aside from more mundane tasks such as actually tackling.
Still time for City to win the title
Perhaps we’re overplaying the defensive deficiencies, obvious as they may seem to many observers. Maybe the solutions will be found within the ranks Guardiola already has at his disposal, even if signing additional central defensive cover would undoubtedly aid his cause from January onwards, once the transfer window opens.
Maybe we’ve become so accustomed to such a level of domestic dominance over the last couple of seasons, when slight cracks appear and the level of perfection we expect isn’t quite there, we overreact when results don’t always come as easily or consistently. In normal circumstances, the results and form produced thus far this season would typically be rewarded with silverware at the end of the campaign.
The only difference this time is that Liverpool have dominated in the Premier League so far, although there’s still plenty of time for them to falter, and for City to hit the same kind of winning stride that has won them back to back titles. Indeed, a third isn’t yet out of reach, no matter what the naysayers might have us believe.