It’s been five years now since Manchester City’s centurion side won their first Premier League title under Pep Guardiola. The swashbuckling Spaniard revolutionised English football with his possession-based brand of totalitarian football — one that would usher in a period of dominance which culminated in four league title wins in the last five seasons.
While it’s unclear whether this current crop of City players have enough to go the distance this season, still favourites with many sports betting sites but currently behind Arsenal in the table at the time of writing, you wonder if they’ll ever hit the heights of the 2017-18 season again, something those that bet on football would been keen to see.
Yes, City have a plethora of world-class players in every position currently, but that initial side that Guardiola built was a different kettle of fish. The problem is, they perhaps haven’t evolved, but regressed. Stylistically, that team was centred around an exciting front three of Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane, but with that triumvirate having all departed the Etihad, new faces have had to come in and fill the void — an extremely hard task for Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez and Erling Haaland, especially when you consider the sheer numbers that the centurions produced.
That’s not to dismiss Haaland’s role. If anything, City are overly dependent on him. The Norwegian arrived this summer from Borussia Dortmund in a deal worth £65 million, and that looks like a relative bargain given the powerful striker’s goal-to-game ratio. It’s inevitable that he will win the Golden Boot, outscoring entire teams, and could even break Mohamed Salah’s record for goals in a season, needing 33 to beat the Egyptian before the end of the campaign.
The issues lie with the wide men. Mahrez has been a reliable servant for City, but as he approaches the twilight of his peak years, his physicality has begun to wane. That jinking, tricky winger has become rather one-dimensional throughout his Premier League tenure, and having scored 20 goals last season, he’s certainly struggled by comparison this year. Grealish looked like the right profile for a Guardiola player when City splashed out a British record fee of £100 million to sign the England international from Aston Villa. But upon leaving his boyhood club, Grealish has seen his creativity squandered, adapting his game to a more rigid, almost robotic, style of play, compromising the freedom and individuality that made him a great in the west Midlands.
Simply put, the pace and tenacity of Sterling and Sane simply doesn’t exist in the current City front three, and it has made them easier to defend against, decreasing their stock when placing a Premier League bet.
There have been many a frustrating afternoon already for City fans this season, with the likes of Everton and Brentford managing to shut them out for large periods of the game. It’s not what we’d typically associate with a Guardiola side, and even the marauding fullbacks Kyle Walker and Jao Cancelo have transitioned into more defensive players knowing they haven’t got the willing runners that are so narrow in the final third.
It would be foolish to write City off in the title race, if anything, it’s more likely that they’ll lift the Premier League title and make it a consecutive hattrick than Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal going the distance, but it could be some time before we see them reach the dizzying heights of 100 points again if they aren’t to adjust out wide and support Haaland more.