Are Manchester City the Top Team in the Premier League?
This season of the Premier League was anticipated to be a tight race thanks to the continued stream of talent and money coming to its members, as well as the elevation in tactical variety and expertise. With several clubs either acquiring enticing managers or returning a promising one, the week-to-week battles are more interesting than ever. Through eight matches, the gap between first and seventh is five points, with Manchester City sitting on top thanks to goal differential.
The Citizens have been enjoyable to watch this season, scoring 19 goals in eight matches and winning their first six matches with relative ease. Under new manager Pep Guardiola, City have shown an ability to adapt week-to-week while their depth, which was exceptional under former boss Manuel Pellegrini, is now efficient and able to win games without the preferred 11 or with different formations and players switching roles and positions.
However, all the praise for City has taken a recent check. A 2-0 loss away at Tottenham Hotspur followed by a home draw to Everton brought City back down to Earth, especially offensively. City went behind Spurs after an Aleksandar Kolarov own goal and failed to get a lot of good chances while Dele Alli added another to take a lead that couldn't be broken into. Against Everton, City missed two penalties, allowed a costly counter off of a pass and flick and needed about five minutes of high and constant pressure for Nolito to equalize.
|vs. Manchester United||2-1 (W)||60%||6/3|
|vs. Spurs||2-0 (L)||58%||6/7|
|vs. Everton||1-1 (D)||73%||8/2|
Against the three teams they've played in the top seven so far, City has four points, as seen above. Tottenham has been the only team to really outplay City. In the draw with Everton, the Citizens dominated possession and held the Toffees to just two shots.
Four points in three matches against top sides is not a bad track record, but it raises the question: considering the tight gap in the top half of the table, how crucial is it that the Citizens get those results compared against the rest of the league?
Currently, two teams have played as many matches against the top seven and have a better record: Spurs and Liverpool. Both took five points from those games, a point better than City, who sit above them in the table. Essentially, City's six-game win streak against teams outside of the aforementioned top seven has been by far the best, while no other team has produced a record good enough against the top seven to overtake them.
For all the hype around the plethora of competitors in the race, results against those in a tier below the contenders may be most important. Obviously, results against better competition are more valuable, but getting consistent points are what teams have been looking for in the first eight matches of the season. What will hurt more in the current race will be dropping points against inferior competition, something City have yet to do while Liverpool lost 2-0 to Burnley and Spurs most recently drew 1-1 with West Bromwich Albion.
There will undoubtedly be dropped points from all teams, but City has an exceptional ability to enforce their will on an opponent. Superiority in talent is tough enough, but Guardiola's tactical pedigree and proven ability to consistently obtain league results, as seen below, makes their slight edge in the race seem a bit more rock-solid than on first glance.
Guardiola has won everywhere he's been, and he's won big, although his sides at Bayern and Barcelona were overflowing with world-class talent. The Citizens have some top-notch players, but they are not quite at that level yet (we can see for sure Wednesday as they travel to Barcelona for a Champions League match).
City's biggest question coming into the season was how quickly the talent would find its fit in Guardiola's system. Considering how well the Citizens started, they've already answered it. Earning the dominant results Guardiola expects and their current form against the better sides of the Premier League makes it seem like City are the best side in England. Oddsmakers currently agree, listing Manchester City as a pretty heavy favorite over Liverpool and Arsenal to win this season's Premier League crown.