A barnstorming start to the season, some signings right out of the top drawer, and a sense of optimism and urgency around the Etihad stadium not seen since May 2014 have propelled Manchester City to the top of every list of title contenders this season.
From your favourites for the League to your favourites for the Champions League, via the League Cup. City seem back.
The title contenders face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park this weekend, and another good win is expected. A record of 10 goals scored and zero conceded is a sensational record, and another 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, in what could be Kevin De Bruyne’s first game for the Citizens, doesn’t seem like too tall an order.
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It would be impressive if Crystal Palace even managed to score a goal, right?
That’s impressive from City in itself. Palace have already beaten Chelsea this season, and of all the teams to spend their new-found money this summer, Palace, probably along with Stoke, seem to be the side with the most to be optimistic about. Alan Pardew, by his own admission, has a ‘good side’ at Selhurst this season.
The class of Yohan Cabaye looks stylish beside the creativity and explosivity of the likes of Puncheon, Sako, Zaha – if he gets to the levels we think he can – and Yannick Bolasie. So for City to feel like such overwhelming favourites for this tie seems strange.
But the international break may have remifications for City, and beyond just this one away game this weekend.
After an international break, you just never know how teams are going to react. It’s not rustiness, it’s not a lack of training. It’s not even being away from your teammates and losing that near-telepathic understanding that the best ‘teams’ have. It’s just a strange phenomenon. Teams come back from the international break unsure of how they’re going to react to league football again.
Presumably Dutch players will come back disheartened by their two defeats to Iceland and Turkey which put their qualification to Euro 2016 next summer in doubt. Scotland players are a little more optimistic, but they’ve left the Republic of Ireland in the driving seat.
Northern Ireland players will – presumably – be on a high after their last-minute equaliser at a good-looking and nearly-completed Windsor Park. None of City’s players are in that position, but I mention it to show the different emotions you may have to fit together into the squad when players come back.
City’s problem might just be the travel involved. South American and African stars will have had further to travel than the European ones.
Breaks are a good thing. After the intensity of pre-season and then the highs of the first few weeks of the season, the players will have a good understanding with each other, but they’ll also be in a position where they’ll have spent a lot of emotionally draining hours together for a prolonged period. The break is a good thing when it comes around now. But just because it’s good on that level doesn’t mean it’s good on every level.
In the Tour de France there are two rest days. Cycling around France for three full weeks is nearly a super-human feat. It was designed to be impossible, a task completed by only a couple of riders.
The allegations of drug use – not to mention proven cases – show just how hard it is, as everyone seeks to gain an advantage. Rest days are clearly vital to the riders on the Tour. But the riders will tell you that there’s no telling what your legs will do after a rest day. Sometimes it’s just that unpredictable once you come back from the break.
Football is even worse. Once you get back and find that you’re not on fire like you were before, it’s tough to get the form back. One defeat kills the mood, you struggle on, but the bubble’s burst. All the while the press gets on your back and then your rivals catch up.
City need to be careful this doesn’t happen to them. Palace away is a tough fixture. They’re not the overwhelming favourites they would have been if there was no international break.
But if they can win the game and get the form back to where it was a couple of weeks ago then they’ll continue to be big favourites right up until FIFA intervene with another round of international fixtures no one cares about… in early October.