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Is Manchester City dominance hurting the Premier League?

Remember a few weeks ago, when the Premier League had a three-horse title race? Not any more. Manchester City dismissed Chelsea on Saturday with a 1-0 victory that was not as close as that tight scoreline suggests and established a 13-point lead at the top of the Premier League table. City have won 12 straight Premier League games and retaining their title is now inevitable.

Liverpool cut the deficit to 11 points by beating Brentford but that was their first win in four games. With Sadio Mane and Mo Salah away at AFCON, their title chances have faded fast. As for Chelsea, hopes of a first title since the 2016-17 season have been destroyed by a run of one win in six, with a row between Thomas Tuchel and Romelu Lukaku proving a distraction.

That is not to say Manchester City will win the Premier League by default. Pep Guardiola’s side are in irresistible form, looking impossible to beat, and they are on track to smash yet more Premier League records. But is that bad for the health of the league?

 

Four titles in five years

Assuming nothing incredible happens over the second half of the season – and it would have to be a collapse on par with Newcastle United in 1996 when Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United hauled them in – Manchester City will ease their way to a fourth Premier League title in five years.

Liverpool are the only team to have stopped them during that time. The Reds had to amass a remarkable 99 points two years ago, with Jurgen Klopp’s men proving unstoppable despite the season having to be paused for three months due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recapturing those highs has proven difficult with City setting an impossibly high standard. In Kevin De Bruyne, they have the league’s outstanding midfielder of this generation, while Ruben Dias is busily establishing a reputation as one of the best defenders of the Premier League era.

That City would have been even stronger had they managed to seal a deal with Tottenham for England captain Harry Kane is a sign that it will take some stopping the sky blue machine. English football fans often describe Ligue 1 and other top divisions across Europe as a “farmers’ league” due to one team dominating the table year after year with little offered in terms of competition, but there is a chance the Premier League might be becoming a similar story.

In France, after all, Paris Saint-Germain – the only club in the world that can compete with City’s wealth – were denied by Lille last year. PSG have three titles in the past five years, so they have not been as hard to stop as City. Italian giants Juventus saw their era of dominance end last year at the hands of Antonio Conte’s Inter, who look set to retain the Serie A crown under new boss Simone Inzaghi. Bayern Munich’s pursuit of a 10th straight Bundesliga bucks the trend.

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Champions League remains elusive

While Manchester City dominatning the Premier League is not in doubt, the club’s first European crown remains out of grasp. Chelsea upset the odds to beat them in last year’s Champions League final, but City should reach the quarter-finals again having been paired with Sporting Lisbon.

Domestically, City’s vice-like grip on the EFL Cup was finally loosened by West Ham last year, meaning that little-loved competition will have a new winner for the first time since 2017.

That City are not winning absolutely everything should act as a crumb of comfort for fans of other clubs. Jealousy remains rife, with accusations that Manchester City have “bought” the Premier League thanks to the huge injection of funds from their mega-rich owner Sheikh Mansour over the past decade.

The argument does not hold water as Manchester City are hardly the first club during the Premier League era to invest heavily in the search for silverware. Blackburn Rovers’ sole title triumph in 1994 came after Jack Walker’s millions funded signings such as Alan Shearer, while the arrival of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea turned the Blues from perennial also-rans into champions. The heavy spending of Farhad Moshiri at Everton also proves money is no guarantee of success.

Perhaps if City were a bit more fun for neutrals to watch, there would be less sniping from the sidelines. Their most important wins are often bloodless, such as the recent 2-0 derby defeat of Manchester United that was no sign of the huge gulf in class. City can be compared to the dominant Barcelona side managed by Luis Enrique, whose dominance of the ball and pursuit of possession at all costs could lead to sometimes sterile yet technically near-perfect football.

Guardiola has designed City to prevent mistakes and avoid randomness or bad luck leading to poor results. But that uncertainty over what happens is part of what makes football so exciting. Nevertheless, City fans hardly care if other supporters feel their football can be boring to watch.

The good news for rivals is the City-Guardiola era seems to be drawing to a close. His contract is up in 2023 and, while City will hope he can be persuaded to extend his deal again, it seems likely they will be searching for his replacement sooner rather than later. Succession planning will already be underway at the Etihad Stadium, but filling Guardiola’s trainers will be tough.

But if even Chelsea, the best-resourced team in the country behind City, with well over £200 million of attacking talent for Tuchel to summon, cannot seriously test Ederson it suggests the Premier League is weaker, not stronger, for their continued dominance under Guardiola.

 


 

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