At first glance, Manchester City would appear legitimate favourites for this years Premier League title.
They have the best squad, the best first team core and the most experienced team in terms of winning trophies and competing at the sharp end of the league table.
With Chelsea almost completely out of the picture in terms of competing at the top end of the league, their local rivals Man United still not completely back to their attacking best, and Liverpool in a period of transition that may well last to the end of the season, this would appear to be a two-horse race at best, with Arsenal the only viable challengers to Pellegrini’s side.
Therefore, it might be easy for the side from the Etihad Stadium to become complacent, and assume that nothing can possibly stand between them and their third Premier League trophy in five years. However, I believe this kind of thinking could be dangerous for them.
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Firstly, it has become obvious in the games so far this season that City do not yet have the sort of totally ruthless streak that many title winning teams manage to acquire over the course of their successful campaigns.
While early on in the season they looked completely unplayable, and gave off an air of invincibility, in recent weeks cracks have begun to appear. The first of these came during their 2-1 home loss to West Ham, a game that many at the time dismissed as a blip.
The Hammers had already produced several excellent results at home, so plenty of pundits simply wrote this off as the sort of result that happens from time to time, even to the best teams.
What they found harder to dismiss as a mere aberration was the 4-1 defeat to a rampant Tottenham side at White Hart Lane, when Pochettino’s team found it all too easy to repeatedly penetrate a wobbly City defence.
It should also be noted that, apart from the game against Chelsea early in the season, City have only played two matches against sides riding high in the league. In the first of these games, the aforementioned North London debacle against Tottenham, they were blown away, through a combination of a rejuvenated, fresh-faced, attacking Spurs side, catastrophic defending from their backline, and terrible refereeing. It led to some serious questions about how good City are when lacking one or two of the core of their team, and queries regarding their overall defensive quality.
The second game was against their arch-rivals from across the city, and although they definitely acquitted themselves better, it was still not exactly a statement of ruthless, title-winning intent – rather, it was a pretty drab 0-0. While it was not a bad result, going to a potential title rival and coming away with a point, it still did not leave me with the feeling there was a side that would let nothing get in the way of their march to the title – in short, they have not yet entirely convinced me.
I believe this lack of a ruthless streak, unless properly addressed, could result in City dropping points in games that Champions just have to win. The game against Aston Villa, for example, was the sort of match that many title-winning teams would have found a late goal in.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team are top of the table for a reason, and have definitely been the best side in the league so far this year – it would be a shame if they let themselves down at the vital moments through a lack of clinical ruthlessness.