It should have been Manchester United and Manchester City going head-to-head for the Premier League title last season, given the amount of wealth spent, but it was not meant to be. However, with both José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola taking a season to settle in, it now looks as though they are about to battle one another for the trophy they both desperately want and need.
Eight games might have only taken place so far, but there is a clear trend taking place, and the two Manchester clubs are in the hot seat.
Chelsea, the reigning champions, have fallen off and continue to disappoint themselves with poor results against Burnley and Crystal Palace. Their European involvement this year appears to be a factor, as Antonio Conte continues to bemoan about his lack of squad depth. Perhaps he should look at the vast amount of youngsters out on-loan rather than demanding the impossible.
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Liverpool’s fans will be waiting yet another for the Premier League title, as their feeble and inadequate defence will continue to leak goals. They might play well against the ‘bigger’ sides, but they always have that mistake of dropping points to Watford, Burnley or Newcastle United, which is part and parcel of winning trophies.
Under Arsène Wenger, all hope appears to be lost for Arsenal fans. They do not possess a title-winning squad and the mentality of the players does not sit right for that to be overturned. As they did against Watford, the Gunners crumble when any bit of pressure comes their way. They are not fit for purpose.
Tottenham appear to be the only team that have any sort of chance of competing with the two Manchester clubs, but the fact that they are at Wembley does not help them. The Lilywhites might be picking up more points now at England’s home stadium, but there is a sense of inevitability that they will drop more points there.
With any title charge, there are obstacles in your path that you must overcome. One obstacle in particular is injuries to your squad. Partly why Chelsea were so prolific last season is that they were out of European football, so the chance of injuries considerably decreased. Having a full squad at your disposal is obviously going to benefit you in the long-run.
Man City’s squad stands out given the vast array of talent on show. When Bernardo Silva is struggling to get game time in the league, it says how rich they are in terms of quality players ready to come in and do a job.
Guardiola boasts the bigger and better squad, but Mourinho seems to have an understanding in his second year of what he expects from his players. While he cannot match City for quality on the pitch, that understanding and pragmatic approach might well be a difference maker.
Mourinho has already had injuries to key personnel this season, and it cost his team potentially three points instead of one when Man United travelled to Anfield.
Paul Pogba is a huge part of this team and it is clear that no one can replace him, so if the Frenchman is picking up injuries and has to miss long periods of the season, it could be detrimental for Mourinho’s hopes for a title push. Since Pogba has been ruled out, we have seen two very isolated games from Romelu Lukaku, whose main source of play comes through the former Juventus man.
Manchester City’s last seven games reads as follows: Everton (A), Manchester United (H), Spurs (A), Swansea (H), West Ham (A), Huddersfield (H) and Southampton (A).
With any title contenders, you want a comfortable last push to limit the amount of points lost. However, that set of fixtures look heavily booby-trapped.
There will be a considerable amount of pressure in the Mancunian derby, while Spurs, at Wembley, is never going to be comfortable. Yet it is the games against Swansea and Huddersfield that City should be most careful of.
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These two clubs they will be facing are likely to be in a relegation scrap. And although they got through it against QPR when they did lift the title under Roberto Mancini, it was a gruesome 90 minutes of having to come from behind.
Mourinho’s last seven games are: Swansea (H), Man City (A), West Brom (H), Bournemouth (A), Arsenal (H), Brighton (A), Watford (H).
While United have less of the traditionally ‘bigger’ sides to play, they have a few games in which couple be banana skins. Bournemouth and Brighton, in particular, will be tough games to negotiate past, especially as they are both away from home.
The Red Devils, usually, have a strong end to their campaign, but these are not Sir Alex Ferguson’s players, and so you never know how they will do with this type of pressure if they are in the hunt for a Premier League title.
There is a lot to be said of having been there and done it in terms of winning a Premier League title.
In 2013/14, when Brendan Rodgers was on the cusp of crowning Liverpool champions for the first time in this new era, experience was a massive factor of why fortunes turned against him.
It was instead Manchester City that raced away to their second title in two years. The manager, Manuel Pellegrino, might not have won it before, but the squad had.
However, in this instance, it could build down to a bit of both. Guardiola has no former experience of being immersed in a title chase in England before, and the pressure that comes with it on the other competitions they are involved in.
Of course, there is no reason to belittle Guardiola, given his major honours with both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but it is a different type of title race. Historically, the Premier League has always been close, and, as shown in 2011/12, it really can go down to the last day to determine the champions.
On the other hand, Mourinho does have that experience. The Portuguese boss has won the English title three times with Chelsea, the latest one come in 2015. That experience of winning it is invaluable.
Mourinho is likely to feel more confident with the fact that he has been there, lived it and come through it, while Guardiola has not. It is obviously not as simple as that, but experience counts for a lot in high-pressurised situations.
There is still a long way to go for this season, and the gruelling stage is yet to come, but if Mourinho and Guardiola can keep their troops fit, it should be a fantastically competitive battle right to the end, which is exactly what the Premier League needs.