19 Feb Seven causes the title race swung for Guardiola & Co.
It has been one of the open and unpredictable seasons in Premier League historical past. 9 totally different teams have been high at numerous factors within the marketing campaign, all the massive golf equipment have suffered surprising defeats and each aspect within the high 10 nonetheless has an opportunity of qualifying for the Champions League. However because the season heads into its closing third, Manchester Metropolis have emerged from the pack to take management and set up a vice-like grip on high spot.
Uncertainty appears to have been banished on the Etihad Stadium, with Pep Guardiola’s team changing into the primary English aspect to win 17 consecutive video games in all competitions, outscoring opponents 46-6 over that span. Additionally they broke Man United’s Premier League document of 9 consecutive wins to open the calendar yr, beating Everton 3-1 on Wednesday night time for his or her 10th victory in 2021.
In November, Metropolis dropped to 11th within the desk, eight factors behind leaders Tottenham Hotspur, after a 2-Zero defeat away to Jose Mourinho’s team. They appeared to be in disaster, having made their worst begin a season in additional than 10 years. However three months on, they’re 10 factors clear on the high, with 14 video games remaining, and are on course for a quadruple.
How has the Premier League been turned on its head in such a brief time frame? It isn’t nearly what Metropolis have carried out; their surge again to the highest is as a lot right down to the failings of others as the advance of Guardiola’s team. Listed below are seven components behind the “finish” of the title race for 2020-21.
1. Man Metropolis’s defensive renaissance
Following that 2-Zero defeat at Spurs, Metropolis’s goals-against column learn 11 conceded in eight video games. Having scored simply 10 themselves, Guardiola’s aspect have been within the unfamiliar state of affairs of getting a detrimental objective distinction. So Guardiola made a change, bringing in John Stones instead of Aymeric Laporte to associate Ruben Dias at centre-half, and Metropolis have not appeared again since.
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Stones has struggled for kind and health in the course of the previous two seasons at Metropolis and heading for the exit. Laporte and Dias had been Guardiola’s anticipated defensive double act, however Laporte has since been unable to reclaim his place — beginning 3 times at centre-half within the league for the reason that Spurs defeat — with Stones and Dias constructing a formidable partnership. Since that loss, Stones and Dias have performed collectively 13 occasions within the league and Metropolis have conceded simply three targets in that run.
Each title-winning team must have a dependable defence, and Metropolis now have that due to Stones and Dias.
2. Gundogan’s targets
Ilkay Gundogan has usually divided opinion amongst Metropolis supporters. Many followers regard the Germany midfielder as too passive and detrimental in possession, whereas others worth his capacity to maintain the ball and supply a dependable launch pad for the team’s quite a few attacking skills. However the 30-year-old has been given a extra superior function by Guardiola this season, deviating from his previous place in defensive midfield. The consequence has been a run of targets, with Gundogan scoring extra within the Premier League (11) than another participant within the division for the reason that starting of December.
Remarkably, he is Metropolis’s main scorer within the Premier League, and his targets have greater than made up for drop in output by Kevin De Bruyne, who had scored simply three previous to his newest harm. Gundogan’s objective streak has coincided with Metropolis’s successful run, along with his brace within the 4-1 win at Liverpool maybe crucial.
3. Liverpool’s Anfield anguish
When Roberto Firmino headed in a 90th-minute winner for Liverpool in opposition to Spurs at Anfield on Dec. 16, it appeared to be a pivotal consequence within the title race. Spurs began the sport as league leaders, however the defending champions claimed a 2-1 win and it despatched them high, eight factors away from eighth-placed Metropolis. However since that win, Liverpool have been in relegation kind at Anfield, failing to win any of their 5 Premier League video games on residence soil.
A 1-1 draw in opposition to West Bromwich Albion was adopted by a goal-less stalemate in opposition to Manchester United, however no less than their unbeaten Anfield run, relationship again to April 2017, was nonetheless intact. But even that 68-game unbeaten league streak at residence was ended with a 1-Zero loss to Burnley, with Brighton & Hove Albion and Metropolis each successful at Anfield since to show it is now not an impregnable fortress.
By amassing simply two factors from a potential 15 at Anfield since mid-December, Liverpool have made it simple for Metropolis to depart them trailing of their wake.
4. Tottenham, Mourinho additionally fall away
Keep in mind when Tottenham have been threatening to win their first league title since 1961? Perhaps not, nevertheless it was solely two months in the past that Mourinho’s team have been high of the desk having gone unbeaten for the reason that opening day of the season.
On the time, Spurs had gone 11 video games with out defeat within the league and recorded wins in opposition to Man United, Metropolis and Arsenal, however the wheels started to return off throughout a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace on Dec. 13, when the house aspect netted a late equaliser. From that time on, Spurs have banked simply 11 factors from a potential 33 and dropped out of the highest 4 solely.
All discuss of a title on the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has naturally been silenced, with the precedence now merely to safe a Champions League spot.
5. De Gea lets United down
Few would have tipped Manchester United to be a severe title contender this season, however Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team went high in January with a 1-Zero win at Burnley they usually have been nonetheless high after the 0-Zero draw at Liverpool on Jan. 17. However each team is simply as sturdy as its weakest hyperlink, and the extended issues over the reliability of goalkeeper David de Gea have been borne out in latest weeks. The Spain No. 1 proved culpable within the shock 2-1 defeat at residence to Sheffield United, after which once more thanks to 2 expensive errors in the course of the 3-Three Previous Trafford draw in opposition to Everton.
De Gea’s errors in each video games arguably price United 5 factors — he was not the one participant at fault, in fact, although his errors have been decisive — and the failure to win these two residence fixtures has seen Solskjaer’s aspect fall 10 factors behind Metropolis after 24 video games. They nonetheless should play Guardiola’s team on the Etihad in early March, however United’s margin for error has evaporated and Metropolis have ruthlessly taken benefit.
6. The ‘two-week COVID break’ rant
Liverpool supervisor Jurgen Klopp sparked a pre-match confrontation with Guardiola forward of the 4-1 defeat in opposition to Metropolis by claiming that the leaders had benefited from a “two-week break due to COVID-19” on the finish of December.
Klopp’s incendiary feedback hinged on Metropolis’s journey to Everton getting postponed on Dec. 28 as a consequence of a COVID-19 outbreak on the membership’s coaching floor that led to an unspecified variety of optimistic exams. That sport was referred to as off simply 4 hours earlier than kickoff, albeit with Everton demanding full disclosure of the knowledge Metropolis offered to the Premier League to justify the postponement.
By having the sport postponed, Metropolis averted having to play twice in 48 hours after going through Newcastle on Dec. 26, however they have been unable to call a full subs bench at Chelsea on Jan. Three as a result of affect of the outbreak. The state of affairs gave Metropolis an eight-day break with out a sport on the finish of December — Liverpool performed three video games throughout the identical interval — prompting Klopp to bemoan his team’s lack of the same break.
Whether or not it performed in Metropolis’s favour or not, Guardiola’s team have since gained 14 straight video games in all competitions.
7. Ending the Anfield jinx
Metropolis had already claimed high spot within the Premier League earlier than their journey to Liverpool on Feb. 7, however the method of their 4-1 victory emphasised the rising confidence in Guardiola’s squad.
Successful at Anfield ended Metropolis’s 18-year await a victory at Liverpool, they usually did it by scoring 4 targets on the stadium for the primary time since 1937. However Metropolis additionally focused the weaknesses within the Liverpool team by exposing the defensive frailties of full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, and utilizing the tempo and motion of Phil Foden to trigger disarray within the opposition half.
It was a efficiency and victory of champions, a swing of the pendulum again in the direction of the Etihad, and the tip consequence confirmed why Guardiola’s team are firmly on course to dethrone Liverpool as kings of the Premier League.