As recently as a few weeks ago, you could hardly
open a newspaper refresh a website without seeing a feature proclaiming Chelsea as champions-in-waiting. There was no shortage of premature comparisons to Arsenal’s Invincibles™ of 2003-04, casting José Mourinho’s against history instead of the rest of the Premier League. Fast-forward to the start of 2015, and Manchester City has quietly crept up and caught the Blues. Ahead of both teams’ Saturday matches, City and Chelsea are level in every category. If the season ended today, the two would head for a play-off.
Just like last year, when we were told that neutral fans wanted Liverpool to avenge the injustice of having a crap team for over two decades, City has hatched a dastardly plot to destroy The Narrative. Having built the deepest squad with the league’s strongest core, City’s again executing a stunning heel turn, setting about to win more games than the team that’s supposed to take the title. Sickening stuff.
It’s consideration worthy of a Southampton or Newcastle, but City is far removed from the tragicomic redheaded stepchild of Manchester from yesteryear. Major League Soccer’s biggest troll is now an established force in English soccer. The Citizens may have bottled their title defense two years ago, but after an uneven start, they don’t look like a team ready to hand Chelsea its crown. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if the rush to hand Chelsea the title energized City. For the second year running, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have kindly suggested we all take our narrative, shine it up real nice, and turn that sumbitch sideways up our collective candy asses.
In Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Touré, David Silva and Sergio Agüero, City possesses an outstanding core. Fernando and Fernandinho may not make it into anyone’s team of the season, but they were smart additions over the last two summers in midfield. Silva is the clear creative hub of the team, but Jesús Navas and Samir Nasri provide ample support. In fact, contrary to the Agüero-centric conclusions many drew about its squad, one of City’s greatest strengths is its lack of reliance on any one individual.
The modern day Premier League title race is very much a squad game, and in that department, City might just have everyone beat. Without any world class left backs knocking about at which it could throw bags of money, City settled on just having two pretty good ones that it could swap when necessary. At right back, it’s not just that Pablo Zabaleta is better than Rafael Da Silva (to use City’s rival as a barometer). Where the gap in squad depth emerges is the difference in quality in their respective replacements — Bacary Sagna versus the charred remains of Antonio Valencia’s confidence. Money can’t buy you love (allegedly), but it sure as hell can buy you options off the bench.
The only real question mark that hangs over City’s title challenge is the fitness of its star forward. Agüero would be considered the best player in the league if not for his injury record. In terms of ability to win games on his own, he’s as close to the otherworldly talents of you-know-who and you-know-who-else as any other player in the sport. The only reason he never enters the “Best Player in the World Not Named Messi or Ronaldo” conversations is that he has yet to complete a season in England without spending at least a month or two in the sick-bed.
The other premiership joint-leader should consider itself on notice. Worryingly for Chelsea, City has pulled even despite Agüero’s absence for over a month. With the Argentine now back in training — as well as Edin Džeko — City will not be lacking for firepower any time soon. But just in case, Swansea’s Wilfried Bony is poised to join for about 30 million pounds (because of course he is).
Manchester City doesn’t give a flying fuck about Financial Fair Play, just like it doesn’t give a flying fuck about The Narrative. It never felt like anyone wanted it to win the league, but as things stand, it may well be lifting the trophy in spring. Again.