Man City are five points clear at the top of the Premier League after ten games, but is Pep Guardiola’s side too open defensively to win it?
City have swept all before them so far this season, with 28 league points from 30, bar an early home draw with Everton.
Guardiola’s men have impressed everyone with their swashbuckling displays, smashing all-comers home and away, while rotating their starting XI for no loss of consistency.
It’s every manager’s dream and every opponent’s worst nightmare. But history shows that bright starters do not necessarily continue in such a rich vein.
City themselves won their opening six league games last season without winning the title, but while their attacking prowess is a huge threat their defence remains a doubt.
They have smashed five past Liverpool, six past Watford and seven past Stoke, for an eye-watering goal difference of 29 so early in a season, but the more revealing truth might be their propensity to concede goals.
Stoke were demolished at the Etihad, but still managed to score twice. City won at WBA last weekend, but the Baggies also scored twice and almost drew 3-3.
Can City continue to score so freely when they face the better sides, as the campaign progresses, but also avoid leaking sloppy goals?
While supporters and pundits will view City’s attacking freedom as entertainment, their rivals will analyse and scrutinise their defensive flaws. Rivals will note the structural defects in City’s defensive game and work out how to take advantage.
City’s cavalier attacking strategy commits numbers forward, but astute tactical minds will examine how to block those attacks and where to target City’s defence.
Boxers are at their greatest risk when punching, as that opens up their body and weakens their defensive guard. Weak opponents will be hit and knocked out, but quality foes will block punches and expose weaknesses with astute counter-punches.
Similarly in football, if mundane sides can score against City, their rivals will deduce how to disarm City’s attacks and pinpoint where to plunder their weaknesses.
So far, City have smashed 10-man Liverpool 5-0 and won 1-0 at Chelsea. They host Arsenal this Sunday, travel to Manchester United on December 10th and host Tottenham on December 16th. We will increasingly see how much City’s rivals have learned.
Can City emulate Arsenal’s Invincibles of 2004 and win the title unbeaten? It’s unlikely. Arsenal did it when expectation said that they couldn’t.
Now, such expectation is exposed very early, which increases the pressure and the likelihood that opponents will out the unbeatable sooner or later, creating the template for others to follow suit.
City have started beautifully, but the cracks are there and they will be tested more and more as the weeks and challenges grow tougher. The title race is unlikely to stay as conclusive as it looks after ten games.