Premier League title race: Man City boast advantage but it's far from over for Arsenal and Liverpool

Premier League title race: Man City boast advantage but it's far from over for Arsenal and Liverpool

It says a lot for the Premier League’s ludicrously high top-end standards that across the course of one afternoon, the mood has shifted from anticipation at perhaps the division’s most exciting ever title race to fear of another Manchester City procession.

It is not difficult to understand why. City are not only the most expensively conditioned of thoroughbreds, but also the gamest among them, too, and do not tend to relent once heading their rivals this close to home.

So, why might this season yet be different? For a start, while City’s aura is burnished by achievements past, it is ultimately this iteration that must go and seal the deal, and it possesses vulnerabilities which some of its predecessors did not.

The most glaring is the over-reliance on Rodri, the midfield key who has been missing for all three of City’s league defeats this term. Saturday’s 5-1 win over Luton was the first time Pep Guardiola has dared leave the Spaniard out of his XI by choice, coming after the 27-year-old pleaded for a rest in the aftermath of last week’s draw with Real Madrid. Should fatigue lead to injury, the complexion of the race would change.

As a collective, meanwhile, this season’s City — conceding at a rate of one goal per game — are on track to post the club’s poorest defensive record since Guardiola’s first transitional season in charge. That will, of course, not matter should the trophy remain at the Etihad come the end of May, but for now it is a weakness that threatens to make awkward encounters of the kind of matches that, in recent years, have effectively been over from the moment of City’s inevitable opening goal.

Think of the recent 4-2 win at Palace, for instance, a comfortable triumph by the end, but one that City did not cruise through without alarm.

City have, on paper, the most straightforward run-in of the contenders, but yesterday’s results show that aberrations are possible. For all Arsenal fans may doubt Tottenham’s appetite to play spoiler, the trip to N17 in the penultimate game does come with baggage: Guardiola’s side have not even scored on their last four league visits to Spurs.

This week’s European fixtures will also shape the race. All three title contenders still have a chance to progress, but only City are favourites to do so, with Liverpool 3-0 down to Atalanta and Arsenal level with Bayern Munich but facing a second leg on the road. By Friday, the Treble-winners may still be on for a repeat, while both Arsenal and Liverpool could be all-in on the league.

There is one other reason — or rather, 115 of them as they await the outcome of Financial Fair Play charges — to think that when all is said and done, the record books may not show City as champions this year. Do not hold your breath on that one, for now.