It might be tempting to just write off the title race this season as completely done. Manchester City is, after all, eight points clear, scoring goals for fun with about a third of the season played. Kevin De Bruyne looks completely unplayable, and David Silva doesn’t seem to be slowing down his production rate for the league leaders. They’ve scored the most goals in the Premier League this season and have let in the second-fewest of seven. Gone too, seem the frailties of the goalkeeping position, and the inability to defeat the ‘small’ teams.
But to simply giftwrap the Citizens the title right now would be to forget that Manchester City still has difficult away games to play this year. Sure, they came through with a 1–0 victory at Stamford Bridge which was mightily impressive. But they still have to go to Anfield, Old Trafford, Wembley and, to a lesser extent, Arsenal. That’s not to say City can’t win those games away from home, but the team will still be put through very stern tests between now and May.
Arsenal offered us a tiny clue to some of the weaknesses that Manchester City might possess, namely at leftback. Fabian Delph was clearly at fault, leaving Alexandre Lacazette to freely score on Ederson. While Delph has enjoyed new life — and has performed well — at Manchester City due to Benjamin Mendy’s long-term injury, it is safe to say he’s the weakest link in City’s backline. Teams might want to seek to exploit that going forward, as it seems to be the only weakness in the City team right now.
Over in London, City’s neighbors Manchester United struggled at Stamford Bridge. Barring the opening 10 to 15 minutes, Chelsea were the better team by a mile. Chelsea has the archetypal championship-winning team. A good, organized defense, a powerful midfield pair of N’Golo Kanté and Tiémoué Bakayoko (boy have they missed the former) and sheer creativity in Eden Hazard and Cesc Fàbregas, who completely ran the game against Manchester United. With performances like this, talks about Chelsea’s decline are complete hogwash.
The big story of the day was arguably the battle of the two No. 9s: Romelu Lukaku and Álvaro Morata. Morata easily won this contest, looking dangerous every time he got forward. I know I’ve made my fair share of criticism of Lukaku, but what was the big guy supposed to do without any service? Manchester United looks lost since losing Paul Pogba. At Stamford Bridge, United’s midfield was completely outmuscled and overpowered by Chelsea. Every time Chelsea went forward you had a sense that the team could have killed the game off had its players been more clinical in front of goal. With United, I found myself groaning at the misplaced passes and poor decision-making. While United has been able to squeeze out results in Pogba’s absence, it’s clear that the original early swagger of six wins and one draw to start the season has given way to a brand of more tentative, uncertain soccer. The good news for United fans is that he might be back soon, having trained this past week.
The bad news is, with the way Pep Guardiola’s team is playing, it might not be enough.