Can Anyone Challenge Manchester City’s Premier League Dominance?
Nineteen points: that was the difference separating Manchester City at the summit of the Premier League table and the chasing pack at the conclusion of the 2017/18 campaign.
That was the largest points gap between the first and second-placed teams in Premier League history, and the only instance in the modern era of a side claiming 100 points or more from their 38-game season.
In short, Manchester City absolutely bossed it.
There has been a sense of cosmic order to the top flight since Leicester City’s still scarcely believable triumph, with Chelsea disrupting the status quo of English football with their switch to a 3-4-3 formation in 2016/17, and then City’s triumph last season was predicated upon the fact that the richest club in the world – with some of the finest players on the planet at their disposal – finally found a tactical plan that brought out the best in their talents.
Credit for that should go to Pep Guardiola, who in his first season in charge at the Mancunian outfit seemed desperate to tinker and tailor his strategy for every given match.
What the Spaniard subsequently learned is that English football is very simple; there is little nuance to the game on these shores compared to, say, La Liga or the Bundesliga. Instead, if you can get your best players on the ball in pockets of space in the final third, you will succeed: City scored 106 goals in 38 league outings last term at an average of 2.79 per game.
So, the question remains: can Manchester City be dethroned in 2018/19? It’s a fair hypothesis, and here’s a little something that might just whet the appetite of the chasing pack; no team in the past ten years has successfully defended the title.
But who is most likely to bring the City to its knees?
Attack, Attack, Attack: Can Liverpool Blitz Their Way to Glory?
They may have finished 25 points behind their Mancunian rivals, but there can be no doubt that Liverpool, on their day, were the best team in the land last season.
That, of course, means very little: if you want to be a champion you need to have at least 35 good days!
But it’s no coincidence that in four head-to-head meetings with Manchester City last season, the Reds won three. In the fourth, their chances evaporated when Sadio Mane was shown a first-half red card.
Jurgen Klopp’s record against the top six teams is well documented, and it would seem the only thing stopping Liverpool from being genuine title challengers is that knack for throwing away what should be rudimentary points: defeat at Swansea, and draws with relegated Stoke and West Brom, highlight their inefficiencies in matches in which they are comfortable favourites.
Perhaps that’s a sign of psychological weakness, or an indication of an unwillingness to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in against more agricultural opposition. Either way, Klopp will need to find a solution if his side are to contend.
At least the manager has addressed his side’s main areas of weakness. It appears as if Brazilian keeper Alisson has signed on the dotted line – he will inject confidence into those in front of him, compared to the fumblings of Loris Karius, while Naby Keita is an all-action midfielder whose style is perfectly suited to success in the Premier League.
Football punters look for outliers to inform their betting, and one we might pose is that Mo Salah’s staggering 2017/18 campaign was something of an anomaly.
Can the Egyptian contribute 32 goals and 10 assists once more? You’d have to expect some kind of regression to the mean, and the Reds may need to find a new outlet in case Salah suffers from the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’.
Can Liverpool win the Premier League title in 2018/19? Yes. Will they? Possibly, but they will need Salah to fire once more and find a way to win ‘regulation’ points a whole lot easier than they did last season.
But at 5/1, they certainly hold some appeal for punters.
Mourinho Must Set His Stars Free
At times last season Jose Mourinho resembled an over-attentive parent refusing to let their child have fun in the ball pit.
He assembled a rather expensive galaxy of attacking talents, and yet seemed reluctant to let them off the leash: Manchester United totalling some 38 goals less than their city rivals – that’s one per game – and 16 fewer than Liverpool.
In 2018/19, he could field a side with Romelu Lukaku up front, Alexis Sanchez left, Fred right, Jesse Lingard or Juan Mata in the hole and Paul Pogba advancing from midfield; it is a mouth-watering proposition, but only if Mourinho cuts the apron strings of his conservative tactics.
Some of their turgid displays last term, at Old Trafford in particular, left the Red Devils faithful cold, and if the Special One doesn’t get off to a decent start this time around you wonder if he might be on borrowed time at the club.
As short as 7/1 with the likes of William Hill, avoid United like the plague in the Premier League winner market.
Sarri’s Salvage Mission
Chelsea accumulated 23 points less in 2017/18 than they did in their title-winning campaign of the year previous; despite fielding essentially the same team in the same formation.
What went wrong? They possibly got found out – that 3-4-3 system completely disrupted the English game in their triumphant season, but you also have to ask are these Chelsea players wielding a bit too much power?
Frustrated by Antonio Conte’s micro management and volcanic temper, the boys in blue seemed disjointed and disinterested at times; similar to the regression from champions to mid-table mediocrity in 2015/16 under Mourinho.
Into the hotseat comes Maurizio Sarri, who has earned a reputation for swashbuckling play from his time at Napoli. They averaged more than two goals per game last term, and pushed Juventus all the way to the Serie A title; coming up just four points shy.
If Sarri can convince Eden Hazard and Willian to stay – and cajole some big performances from Alvaro Morata – then you would expect Chelsea to improve this term. But at 14/1 to win the title with Betway, punters are advised to take a watching brief.
King Kane Key to Tottenham Tilt
Harry Kane scored 30 of Tottenham’s 74 Premier League goals last season; a steady haul of 40%.
What happens if the England man suffers a long-term injury? A regression in form is unlikely given that he is a proven elite performer, but he has shown the occasional vulnerability to a muscle tweak and a joint ache or two in recent times.
Realistically, Spurs lack the squad depth to really mount a sustained title challenge. Take Kane or Eriksen out of this side and you suddenly have a pretty ordinary outfit, and compare their second string to that of their title rivals and, well, the point of difference is obvious.
There will be few takers on the 16/1 available at bet365 on them to land a first ever Premier League title unless Mauricio Pochettino spends big in the remaining weeks of the transfer window.
Written by Craig Simpkin
A sports journalist with a smorgasbord of experience writing for a variety of publications, Craig is a Leicester fan hoping that England can also achieve the impossible this summer.