After 40 goals in just 12 matches, how do you stop Manchester City?

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

1009

Suresh Nair

ONLY 12 matches to the season and Manchester City has an eight-point lead over the nearest rival and look set to be the earliest runaway leaders in the English Premier League (EPL).

Pep Guardiola’s team has 34 points, matching their achievement at the start of the 2011-12 title-winning season under Roberto Mancini.

Mind you, they have plundered an awesome 40 goals so far this season and going on rip-roaring form, I dare say the Sky Blues (City’s nickname) are almost unstoppable.

“They are playing some of the best football ever played in the history of the Premier League. I think we’re looking at another invincible team this season,” says Leicester manager Claude Paul as he hailed City “the best team in Europe” after they brushed aside Leicester 2-0 to give them a 16th consecutive win and the joint-best start to a Premier League season.

Now who can stop City from wrapping up their title ambitions, not even at the half-way stage? Tongue-in-cheek, many pundits say only Manchester City can stop Manchester City!

“I don’t see who is going to stop them. If they get complacent, maybe. But I think Guardiola is all over that one. He is picking up on mistakes in training. He will stop at nothing. He is, in my opinion, a serial winner,” says Singapore’s award-winning former national coach Jita Singh, who closely follows the EPL.

Simply put, City is so, so good with 11 wins, one draw and no loss over a dozen matches. The Etihad remains the ultimate Premier League fortress and with home form the cornerstone of any successful title tilt, City fans can take great solace from the players’ performances on their own patch.

PASSING SUPREMACY

The positive offensive outlook instilled by Guardiola with “tiki-taka” passing supremacy, combined with a stable of players capable of scoring goals from anywhere on the pitch, makes it one of the most poised and potent attacking forces in the world.

Look at every match, where the Sky Blues come out capable and ready to score three or four goals. In fact, they are averaging nearly 3.5 goals per match in the Premier League this season.

After experiencing the first season in his managerial career where he has not won a trophy, Guardiola of Barcelona super-passing fame looks determined to ensure it does not happen again.

He’s got his check-list right and has a much more balanced side to rely on this season that is scoring goals aplenty and also remaining very strong in defence, conceding only seven goals in 12 matches.

While others from Columbia to China, Poland to the Philippines and even Senegal to Singapore may be getting ahead of themselves by anointing City as champions-in-waiting, Jita still erred on the side of caution given that they are yet to reach the most testing period in the season.

WARY OF WINTER PERIOD

“It’s still early days although the winter period may be the most testing,” says Jita as he explained that had they not slipped up at the same time in the last two years and they could well be gunning for a third consecutive Premier League title.

“Usually November, December and January are tough, the toughest months to play football in England – the games, the weather, the injuries, the stockpile of fixtures, the Champions League, the Christmas period…”

City fans, too, know that the winter months could pose the biggest headache to the free-flowing football that Guardiola’s side have produced this season, given the deteriorating weather conditions and the affect that it can have on pitches will make it harder to pass the ball with such ease as they have done in the first two months of the season.

Perhaps the acid test, some may call it the “Mother of all Matches” will come in the Manchester derby on December 10 where Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have the best chance to stop City’s runaway form at Old Trafford.

Long-standing City fan Razali Amin of Tampines North agrees the end-of-the-year fixture list can also pose the “biggest test ever” as the Sky Blues have trying league games against Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham, as well as four matches in 10 days across the festive period.

“Can they get through to February, March and April when the weather gets better again and it’s an easier time of year to play football?” he asks.  “My view is that has cost them in the last two seasons and if they can get through those three months, then it could be one of the most sterling performances under Guardiola.”

PERFECT FOOTBALL?

I must admit that City is playing close to perfection football. They have fewer weaknesses and considerably more attacking options to try and contain.

So far this season City has shown few frailties. If they keep doing the basics right, and keep performing at the level they’re performing at, week in and out, they will be hard to even pinch one point.

Analyse the team from goalkeeper upwards and the Sky Blues have got a lot of game winners and fantastic talents, with attacking fullbacks that take as much cracks at goal as the strikers.

Even former Red Devils defender-hero Rio Ferdinand says even United supporters are jumping on the bandwagon. “City is definitely on the bounce,” he says. “They are a machine at the moment. They are doing it in unbelievable style – look at the goals and approach play which is sublime and beautiful to watch.

“I’m saying that as someone who is on the red side of Manchester. It is great to watch. Pep Guardiola has got them playing football you would pay to watch.”

Fact of the matter is Guardiola’s lads are playing some of the best football ever played in the history of the Premier League. We may well be looking at another invincible team this season.

But there should never be complacency on the cards as will be looking to keep up their lead at the top of the table when they travel to giant-killers Huddersfield (shock recent winners over Manchester United!) next weekend.

But first they host Feyenoord in the Champions League at the Etihad on Tuesday.

Pray tell me, please, how can anyone stop the Sky Blues?

Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who has covered regional football for a stable of newspapers in the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) group the past three decades.

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