Blog, Blog Post, Clubs, English Premier League, Manchester City

ESPN FC’s Shaka Hislop discusses Manchester City’s storming start to the season.

The Premier League title race is already over according to some, with even Chelsea’s Antonio Conte and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp finding it difficult to see anyone stopping Manchester City.

No team has ever held such a commanding lead at this stage of a Premier League season, with closest rivals Manchester United and Tottenham already eight points behind after just 11 matches.

But City boss Pep Guardiola certainly isn’t expecting to win the title without any difficulties and is well aware that title races often have a surprise twist. 

“Did you see a champion in January? Me neither,” he said after the 3-2 win at West Brom in reply to suggestions they can’t be stopped.

City are in brilliant form — taking 31 points from their first 33 games and winning their last nine in the Premier League. What is perhaps more surprising is that it is an identical record to that made by Roberto Mancini’s City in 2011-12. They also won the 12th game that season to make it 34 points from 36 but they were still to need that injury time winner from Sergio Aguero on the final day of the season six months later to claim their first ever Premier League title. The manner in which they did it should provide a reminder to some in the squad that the race has a long way to run.

After 11 games, City were five points clear of United and had scored 39 goals — one more than this season, although their goal difference of +29 is two goals worse than this time. Among their 10 victories was a spectacular 5-1 win over Spurs at White Hart Lane and the incredible 6-1 derby win at Old Trafford. Their 13th game was a 1-1 draw away to Liverpool meaning they remained unbeaten after playing three of their toughest away fixtures.

However, City’s form took a nosedive around Christmas. Unlike this season when Guardiola’s side have already qualified for the Champions League round of 16 with four straight wins, Mancini’s men missed out on the knockout stages despite amassing 10 points and it impacted on the spirit in the squad. The biggest fallout came after the game away to Bayern Munich when Carlos Tevez had refused to come on as a substitute and then went home to Argentina for five months — not playing again in the Premier League again until midway through March.

Manchester City started with a bang in 2011-12 but almost blew their title challenge before Sergio Aguero saved them.

Mario Balotelli wasn’t much more reliable. He was given a four-match ban for stamping on Tottenham’s Scott Parker in January and also saw red in the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal in April.

By then City trailed United by eight points at the top of the table after taking a measly 33 points from 18 games. A 2-1 defeat at Chelsea in December was not disastrous but the way they lost 1-0 to Sunderland on New Year’s Day rocked their confidence. It was a game they dominated at the Stadium of Light but they were stunned by Ji Dong-Won’s winner in injury time.

They lost again in January, at Everton, before a disastrous run of five games in March and April that saw them take just four points from games against Swansea, Chelsea, Stoke, Sunderland and Arsenal.

Then it was Mancini’s time to say the title race was all-but finished. “It’s not mathematically [over], but it’s clear now that it’s very difficult,” the Italian said after the defeat at the Emirates. Only a combination of six straight wins to round off the season and United’s surprise implosion allowed City to win the title is such dramatic fashion.

Of that squad, only David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure are still at the Etihad but they will remember the way their confidence and form drained away.

Guardiola has already warned that injuries and suspensions could have an impact on his side and says he needs to know how his team will react when they suffer their first defeat this season. Last term, City won their first 10 matches but won just two of their next nine following their first slip-up as their domestic and European challenges faded.

It’s been a thrilling start to the campaign, but there are examples from City’s recent history to suggest there is still a long way to go in this title race.

Jonathan is ESPN FC’s Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.

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