After Raheem Sterling’s 96th-minute winner against Southampton at midweek restored Manchester City’s lead atop the Premier League table to eight points, their rivals might well have wondered whether City would ever present them with an opening. For the second time in three days, the league leaders pulled out a 2-1 win over determined opponents via a late goal. Following a weekend that saw several title challengers drop points, only Manchester United remain within 10 points of the runaway leaders.
With the Sky Blues adding a knack for late drama to their already well-established ability to run riot, a slip-up seems less likely than ever. In light of these developments, the looming Manchester derby takes on even greater urgency. Regardless of results this weekend, a City win over their crosstown rivals on December 10th would leave the club with an advantage of at least 11 points in the league. Only a monumental collapse in form would see City squander such a lead.
City set record-breaking pace
With their win on Wednesday, Manchester City have now accumulated 40 points from their opening 14 matches. That is the highest ever total in league history at this stage in the season. City have also compiled 12 straight wins in the league—a club record—one shy of the single-season record and two short of the all-time league tally. Thanks to this impressive start, the Citizens are on course to rewrite more league history come the end of the season. The records for most points (95) and most goals scored (103) in a single season are both held by Chelsea teams, their 2004-05 and 2009-10 sides respectively. City’s 40 points leave them seven ahead of the 04-05 team through week 14, and their 44 goals scored place the current side nine ahead of the 09-10 team through the same period.
Showing championship mettle
While the image of City as a free-scoring side putting a handful of goals past teams at will is not entirely inaccurate, some of the team’s most noteworthy wins this year have been in lower-scoring affairs. City’s run of scoring at least five goals in four out of five matches over a month period earlier in the campaign is certainly impressive, comprising more than half their season total. However, it is in the matches when the team are not at their best, or when their opponents are particularly obstinate, that City have shown champion’s form.
Consider first the only blemish on City’s record this year, the 1-1 draw with Everton in week two. With the decline in Everton’s fortunes since then, it now seems almost inconceivable that they did not inflict greater damage. But City, yet to hit their stride, played the whole of the second half a man down. They salvaged a point near the end, Raheem Sterling popping up with the first of his significant late strikes this season.
With the exception of the Liverpool drubbing, City’s matches against other top sides have all been fairly close as well. A lone goal settled the match against Chelsea, the 3-0 scoreline against Burnley belies a workmanlike performance, and the 3-1 victory over Arsenal was anything but straightforward. Tough wins over West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City, coupled with the three matches decided by Sterling’s heroics, suggest Pep Guardiola’s side have as much steel as silk.
City head into the congested holiday fixture period the likely Christmas champions, historically a good predictor of which club will win the league in May. The upcoming matches—eight in the league between this weekend and the turn of the year—will present their own individual challenges apart from the difficulty such quick turnarounds demand; a trip to Old Trafford in the derby and a visit to the Etihad from Tottenham chief among them. This will likely be the most testing period of the year for Guardiola’s team. Were they to continue in their rich vein of form, however, City could enter 2018 with an insurmountable lead, making any wobble of little significance in the final table. The coming of the new year will do much to clarify the nature of this year’s title race—or whether there will be one at all.