It was a familiar tale for Manchester City in their recent defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in north London. The 2-0 scoreline matched that of City’s loss to Spurs last season, a result which then made it seem unlikely that they were going to win a third successive Premier League title.
This time, the same question arises. City now lie eight points behind Tottenham and Liverpool, who lead the table with 20 points, and while Pep Guardiola’s side do still have a game in hand, there is a sense that the trophy may be slipping away from them once again, despite their position as one of the top title favourites in the English Premier League odds.
It was a classic José Mourinho performance which gave Spurs their victory over City. The home side scored early through Heung-Min Son, and that gave them a platform on which to set back and defend. They soaked up the City pressure brilliantly, making it difficult for Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Ferran Torres to weave their attacking magic. By the time Giovanni Lo Celso had come off the bench to score Spurs’ second, it was clear that Mourinho had bested his old foe Guardiola.
And so, the rebuilding project begins at Manchester City, as they seek to regain a foothold in the title race. One thing which plays to their advantage is that the league is very close this season, all the way to the top. Last season, Liverpool’s magnificent unbeaten run made the Reds runaway leaders, but this time things are a lot tighter. Liverpool look more fallible this season, and the other sides at the top can all be expected to drop points too.
The task for Guardiola is to ensure that his team do not also drop points regularly. That was what cost City last season – losing matches to teams you would expect them to beat. The defensive signing of Ruben Días this season should help City be a touch more solid at the back, as their leakiness in the 2019-20 campaign meant they shipped far too many goals.
The absence of Sergio Agüero in recent weeks has also not helped City’s cause. The Argentine striker has proved his value time and time again for the club by scoring important goals when it matters most. Without him, City often look more toothless in attack, and while Gabriel Jesus is a fine striker, he does not possess the same clinical nature as Agüero.
But it still remains unclear whether City have enough to win the title this season. On the evidence of their campaign so far, there are still too many inconsistencies in their performances to justify the assumption that they are one of the top favourites. Tottenham’s early form has made them an early contender to win their first Premier League title, while Liverpool’s position in the table despite some shaky performances shows that their winning mentality is still very much intact.
It’s a difficult challenge for any manager to regain the Premier League title. There is a sense that City must build anew if they’re to seriously challenge. At the moment, there is a blend of young, hungry new players and more senior members of the team. But, if anyone can bring this team together and reach towards the high standards set in previous campaigns it’s Guardiola. In the end, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see them right in the heart of the title race when the end of the season approaches.