With only five games of the Premier League season played, it would be unfair and unwise to go too far. When the statisticians look at form, though, they usually do so over a period of six games.
In other words, we’re nearly at a point where we can start looking at league table and concluding that apart from a few anomalous teams – like Everton, for example, who have played four top six clubs in their five games – the league has settled into its likely rhythm.
And what we can see so far is that Manchester City and Manchester United are already starting to pull ahead of the rest, both in terms of how they’re performing and also in terms of their points and goal difference. In fact, they seem to be pulling away from the pack.
It’s too early to say these things with much confidence, of course. So far, United’s toughest game of the season was against an Everton side who capitulated in the final minutes. They haven’t yet played any of last season’s top six. City, meanwhile, faced their only top six test at home to Liverpool, whom they thumped 5-0. But Pep Guardiola would be making a huge mistake if he takes his side for world beaters on the basis of that game. In terms of what it tells us about City’s title credentials, there is surely an asterisk beside it, though his side should draw huge praise for their ruthlessness in attack and the fact that they – like United – have conceded only two goals so far this Premier League season.
So, just like Pep, we too would be making a big mistake if we thought that the Manchester clubs weren’t the league’s biggest threat this season. Even at this early stage, it’s not too much of a leap to suggest that they could find themselves pulling away at some stage in the not too distant future. A Manchester shootout like in 2012 could be on the horizon.
Indeed, there are some seemingly strategically placed Manchester derbies to come this year. The kinds of games that make your mouth water. City and United play on December 9th (though that’s down for a 3pm kick-off at the moment, and will be moved for TV). That’s a game which will come just days after the final Champions League group stage games, but with both clubs are already looking good for qualification, and it doesn’t seem outlandish to predict that both may be already through and able to rest players in the midweek. That would not just give us a derby, but a top-of-the-table one involving two reasonably fresh sides. A win for either would put pressure on the other over the Christmas period, and could give an advantage to one club that doesn’t exist at the moment.
Of course, it’s too early to start talking about title races of any kind, let alone the idea that it’s already a two-horse race. This is a prediction, not a comment on a state of play. The other big teams – Chelsea especially – are still a threat, and we saw good starts from both Manchester clubs last season before collapses before the year was even out. But this feels a little bit different.
There’s something tantalising about the Manchester clubs going toe-to-toe like in 2012, but that is arguably now even more pronounced by the fact the managerial battle will pit Guardiola with Jose Mourinho once again. And there’s even a chance that April could provide an intense period towards the end of the season to rekindle the rivalry once again.
Down for April 7th – and again, you can expect the time if not the date to be moved – there’s a derby scheduled for the weekend smack bang in the middle between the two Champions League quarter-final legs. Should City and United negotiate their groups, and should they be in contention in the league and should they both overcome their last 16 opposition, then they could draw each other in the Champions League quarter-finals. That would mean three derbies in a week, just like the intense and almost nasty period in 2011, when Guardiola and Mourinho fought verbally and almost physically, using the press briefing room to insult each other. The football itself was intense, too.
That fire could be lit again, as we all hoped it would be, in the soap opera surrounds of a Premier League title race. That would be something special, and it could add a new dimension to the derby itself.
Since City’s emergence as one of England’s best teams, we’ve only seen that rivalry play out at the top once or twice. Only one year was there a real title race between the two, though they did meet in the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and the League Cup. Rarely do we see them take each other on in such close-combat, and certainly not since Alex Ferguson left.
Yes, it’s too early to say this will happen, but if the first five games are anything to go by, we could be in for something intense. Above all else, rekindling the fire between both the clubs and the managers would make the storyline more fun than it has been for years.
In the end, it’s too early to call, as history tell sus. We all thought that’s what we were getting last season when both clubs started well. But we can dream. And we can predict. A situation where hostilities are resumed in the most public and theatrical way possible is clearly an exciting prospect, and surely one which would be a welcome change from the last few seasons of one team dominating the league and winning by more than a few points.