Next Invincibles? Maybe, if rampant City can see off Chelsea
They’ve won at Wembley Stadium and Emirates Stadium.
They’ve ground out a draw at Anfield.
They’ve demolished their fierce local rivals at home.
The barriers to Manchester City’s players emulating Arsenal’s from 2004 and going a full English Premier League unbeaten are gradually being removed.
Avoid defeat at Chelsea on Saturday and the chances of City becoming the latest “Invincibles” will be hiked up even further.
It would not just be the manner in which the team has been swatting aside most of its opponents in its 15-match undefeated start that would be pointed to. More the fact that City will have played all of its biggest rivals away from home and still kept that clean record intact.
Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t even concede a goal in away games to Arsenal (2-0), Tottenham (1-0) and Liverpool (0-0), taking a total of seven points from those fixtures. After visiting Chelsea, City will have played all of its toughest games and almost half the league campaign will have gone.
Unsurprisingly, Guardiola brushed off talk of finishing the season unbeaten.
“I don’t care about that,” Guardiola said on Friday. “Believe me, it is the least important thing. I don’t care. It’s just the next game.”
Yet somehow, City is managing to raise the bar after a season when it broke Premier League records for most points (100), most wins (32), most goals (106), biggest goal difference (pus 79) and biggest title-winning margin (19 points).
The team is averaging exactly three goals per game and has conceded only seven. All of this with probably its best player — Kevin De Bruyne — missing for the majority of the season because of injury, and playing without a genuine left back for some of it with Benjamin Mendy also having spells out.
Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri as good as threw the towel in on Friday when asked if City could be stopped this season.
“It’s impossible to beat them in a long period, of course, in this moment,” said the Italian, who described City as “maybe the best in the world. But in a match, everything can happen.”
A difference this season is that City has some company at the summit. Liverpool is only two points back in second place and also is unbeaten after its first 15 games. There are doubts over whether Liverpool, which hasn’t won a trophy of any kind since 2012 and a league title since 1990, can last the duration of the title race but a defensive improvement in Juergen Klopp’s team will make Liverpool hard to beat.
An interesting aspect this weekend is that, unlike in recent rounds in the Premier League, Liverpool plays first — in a lunchtime game at Bournemouth on Saturday — so can apply some pressure with a victory at Vitality Stadium.
City still has to play away to Manchester United, which it overwhelmed in a 3-1 win at home last month, while a trip to an Everton side rejuvenated under Marco Silva should also be a test.
Otherwise, the rest of City’s most difficult remaining matches come at Etihad Stadium where the team has won all eight of its games so far, scoring 30 goals in the process.
It was a dominant win at Chelsea — albeit by a scoreline of only 1-0 — that first made Guardiola feel City would produce something special last season. In his first season in charge, City struggled in big games away from home.
“That, I think, was the first day we believed in ourselves, me included, to say, ’OK, we can go away on the biggest stage and win.”
The fact that Chelsea has started to stutter in the league, losing two of its last three games, makes City an even bigger favorite this weekend, although Guardiola said Sergio Aguero and De Bruyne would be missing again because of injury.
“How are they going to react after losing two games?” Guardiola asked of Chelsea. “I can imagine how intense, how aggressive and how committed they will be. That’s why it’s a good test for us. I will welcome that.”
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80