Another week, another win. Manchester City’s relentless march towards a third Premier League title in four years shows no signs of slowing down, and Pep Guardiola’s side were forced to battle for all three points against a dogged West Ham United. But win they did, and with a healthy buffer of 12 points over second-place Manchester United, the bet exchange favourites look for all the world as though regaining their title in May will now be a formality.
Of course, the upcoming Manchester Derby will see the two sides go head-to-head, and it’ll be a chance for City to really extend their advantage, not only in the sense that they’ll move further clear of their arch rivals, but also in terms of sending a message to the rest of the chasing pack. In a season defined by chaotic scheduling and covid-related postponements, City have found the winning formula. The win against West Ham was their 20th successive win in all competitions.
With the derby on the horizon, albeit with a home game against Wolves sandwiched in between, City will be looking to it as a game that could see them fully streak clear of their closest challengers. United have been inconsistent of late, failing to win matches they should on paper, and their recent drab 0-0 draw with Chelsea gave no indications that they were ready to spring a sudden title charge. All that is left for Manchester City to do is to keep going as they are, and the lead will slowly build. There is even a chance that City could eclipse Liverpool’s 18-point title-winning margin from last season.
This kind of form had looked unlikely at the beginning of the season. Like most teams in the Premier League, Guardiola’s men struggled to find any kind of rhythm amidst the intense fixture scheduling, and it took new signings time to adapt. For a while, in part due to the fact that City started their season a week later due to European commitments the previous season, the team were hovering around in mid-table, and it was looking like another season of disappointment was on the cards having lost the title to Liverpool a few months earlier.
But things can change quickly in football, and as various title contenders fell by the wayside – Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and United themselves – City quietly went about their business putting together the remarkable winning run that shows no signs of slowing down. They were made to work for the recent victory over West Ham, but it always felt like a City win was never in doubt, that David Moyes’ Hammers were vainly fighting a tide.
The task for Ole Gunnar Solskjær is to produce a performance that stifles their great rivals. United have been too flaky this season, failing to fully punish teams and as a result having to settle for draws from matches they really should win. Despite that, their record against City recently isn’t half bad, having won both league encounters last season before drawing 0-0 at Old Trafford in the current campaign. It’s clear that Solskjær knows how to get the better of City, and Guardiola will certainly be wary of United’s threat.
But there is a feeling of inevitability to Manchester City at the moment – that the title will simply fall into their lap like a lost dog returning home. Liverpool’s success last season clearly irked Guardiola and his team, and the current campaign has been a one-stop mission to wrestle the Premier League trophy out of the Anfield cabinet and back into their loving arms. A win against Manchester United this weekend would make it difficult to see any other outcome this season.