Manchester City have looked like Champions-elect since their strong start to the season was capped with the 6-1 destruction of the holders Manchester United at Old Trafford. But with Liverpool giving City their first real domestic contest after another disapointing outing in the Champions League, a Spurs team which has quietly taken 28 from its last 30 available points must keep their amazing run going as City deal with adversity for the first time. The Premier League title may not just be a Manchester preserve this season.
City had dropped only two points all year, an improbable give-away at Craven Cottage after dominating the game and even going two ahead against Fulham. But their form in Europe has been indifferent–two wins, two losses, and a draw–and they look likely to drop out of the Champions League at the group stage. But earlier European disappointments, even when coupled with controversy in the shape of Carlos Tevez, had not spilled over into their league form. Yet Liverpool really took it to City at Anfield on Sunday, capitalizing on a tiring City squad that hardly threatened in attack and can thank Joe Hart for several world class saves to keep it level.
Even more amazing that City’s impressive start has been Tottenham’s charge up the table after getting shellacked in their opening two games by a combined 8-1, albeit both losses to the Manchester duo. But Spurs made two big additions and kept their best player, midfielder Luca Modric, on transfer deadline day and haven’t looked back since. The acquisition of a legitimate striker, Emmanual Adebayor, has given Spurs the finishing ability that they have lacked since they sold Dimitar Berbatov to Man U three seasons ago.
More importantly, Spurs have been healthy, with even Ledley King making nine starts (yes 9!), already more than he made in the entire season last year. Now, they were missing both Modric and Rafael van der Vaart on Saturday and even went a goal down at West Brom and still ended up 3-1 winners. And the fixture list is kind to them, with a home match against Chelsea the only game against a top-seven side in their next nine games ahead of a January 22 clash with City in Manchester. Spurs should be able to keep this going and then we’ll really see what City are made of.
And Liverpool may have given the rest of the league, or at least the top teams, some idea of how to frustrate City’s amazing attack, at least when they come out in 4-3-3 without either big central forward. They had scored a remarkable 42 goals through the first 12 games, including seven straight games of at least three. Liverpool played with three in central midfield, pressed City very high up the pitch, and deployed Lucas to shadow David Silva to prevent the playmaker from controling the game.
And it worked. City’s goal came off the shoulder of Vincent Kompany from a corner kick, Liverpool keeper Pepe Riena didn’t make a save all game, and even the introduction of the two big strikers didn’t change the direction of the game. City’s midfield was ineffective and Samir Nasri was practically annonymous. Players as skillful as City’s Sergio Aguero and Silva will string some passes together, but Daniel Agger and Martin Skertl were able to keep them largely at bay.
So, what started as a two-horse Manchester race and evolved into a one-team show, is now joined by Spurs, yes seven points behind but with a game in hand and in incomperable form. City face Chelsea and Arsenal in their next three matches. By the Christmas program, the Premiership title race may take yet another turn.