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Four iconic Man City comebacks show Liverpool and Chelsea the title race isn’t over – Joe Bray

‘Not the best kick about, year 11s stole our ball,” wrote Brentford’s Ivan Toney of Manchester City’s low-key dominance on Wednesday.

City were not at their best, but edged a 1-0 win to move eight points clear at the top of the Premier League. Their ten wins in a row have done the heavy lifting in their rise to the top, but Chelsea and Liverpool’s stuttering form has also helped.

Now, City are in danger of stealing the ball from the whole of the Premier League, and running away with the title as they did last year and in 2018. They will have woken up on Thursday to various comments that they are turning the division into the Bundesliga (Gabriel Agbonlahor said that), or the old, tired argument that City are only clear at the top because of their ‘unfair wealth and squad size.

It’s a lazy response to what is clearly the best team in the league playing like genuine title contenders – getting wins when under par, racking up big scores when the chance is there, and putting together lengthy runs to build momentum. But it’s the go-to reaction when City look like taking away a title race that was on track to be the most competitive in years.

That’s not necessarily City’s fault – how can they be criticised for winning more than Chelsea and Liverpool have been for dropping points they shouldn’t be?

Jurgen Klopp summed it up before Liverpool’s self-inflicted defeat at Leicester.

“It’s not that we have absolutely no chance anymore but of course you know that City will not drop a lot of points so you better not drop points yourself,” he said.

“What do we have to do better? What we have to do at the top-level is defending, that’s how it is. That’s how we have to do it to beat that squad.

“We’ve taken some good steps. Will it be enough? I have no idea. But without being at least as consistent as we’ve been, we’d have no chance. If we really want to go for the big one, we have to be even more consistent. We will see if that’s possible or not but we will give it a try.”

It’s a very fair assessment that to win the title, you need to be consistent. Pep Guardiola declared after the Brentford win (with Liverpool and Chelsea both dropping points again) that the title race is far from over.

“There are 54 points to play. Fifty-four,” he said.

“We were 4-0 up [against Leicester] and in 20 minutes we were 4-3 three days ago. All of you, thank you for your nice words because we win but I’m not going to believe any of the words you’re going to say if you think it is already done.

“Chelsea and Liverpool are more than exceptional, – one is the European champions and Liverpool have been our big rival for years. The difference is not because they dropped points but because we won 10 games in a row.”

Both managers are correct in their views of the title race. City are top because they are brilliant, and if Liverpool or Chelsea want to overtake them they need to be better, or hope for City’s run to end.

And it will. City are also aware of how quickly things can change in a season – especially after an eight-point swing at the top in December alone. The recent statistic that City were top at Christmas, and have won the league on both other occasions they have done that, came with an asterisk that four of the last 13 champions did so coming from behind in the new year.

Three of those occasions were when City came from nowhere to capitalise on the leaders slipping up.

Last season, City were eight points behind Liverpool at Christmas, before embarking on that ridiculous run of 15 wins in a row. Two years before in 2018/19, City were as far as 17 points behind in early December, and ended up pipping Liverpool to the title by a point in the last week.

And in 2013/14, City were seven points behind Liverpool when they lost at Anfield with the hosts having just four games left. The title was out of their hands, but they won five out of six games left, saw Steven Gerrard slip against Chelsea, and they won the unlikeliest of trophies.

Even in 2011/12, City topped the table over Christmas but fell away and allowed United to establish an eight-point lead with nine games left. You know what happened next.

So of all teams, City will know how a big lead can disappear in weeks when the pressure is on. So far, they’re the side putting the pressure on. But Guardiola’s reference to 54 points is evidence he knows that Liverpool and Chelsea won’t give up the chase easily.

As 2022 begins with a huge showdown between Klopp and Tuchel’s sides at Stamford Bridge, this is where the title race truly begins. City have stolen the ball, but there’s a long way to go until it’s definitely theirs.



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