Written by Sylvester Chalira
This season Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City has taken the English Premier League by storm. They have set a new English record for consecutive wins (19) and, with 59 points and 61 goals accrued 21 games into a 38 game season, they are on course to beat the existing Premier League records for points in a single season (95, set by Jose Mourinho’s 2004/05 Chelsea side) and goals in a single season (103, set by Carlo Ancelotti’s 2009/10 Chelsea team).
Such is their dominance that, barely halfway through the season, the consensus already sees them as champions. With this being the case, the question of whether any of their rivals will be able to catch them in the coming seasons arises. Below we will look at the rest of the Big Six Premier League clubs and their chances of catching up with City.
Over recent seasons Tottenham have signed talented young players and Mauricio Pochettino’s coaching has consistently improved them. They have established themselves as a Champions League club and in Harry Kane they possess a striker who outscored Lionel Messi (56 to 54) in the calendar year 2017. There’s plenty to be happy about, but despite consistent overachieving they may not possess the financial clout to attract (and keep) the best players and to win major trophies. This season they have lost right-back Kyle Walker to Manchester City and fellow defenders Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld are also looking to move on to better paying clubs. For context, Kane is their highest earner and at £100,000 per week is earning the equivalent of the average weekly salary for Manchester City and Manchester United squad players.
Tottenham are building a 62,000 seater stadium to boost their match day revenue. It is budgeted to cost £400m, a significant drain on the club’s resources. Internationally, their brand cannot match the commercial appeal (or revenues) of the other, more recently successful Big Six teams and as such they will need to start winning trophies soon to maintain momentum and hold on to their best players, whose agents will be well aware of how much can be earned elsewhere.
Arsene Wenger’s coaching methods and scouting network were once cutting edge, but have fallen behind in recent years. The majority of his signings no longer become world beaters and teams know how to exploit the weaknesses of his system. He offers stability, but little else. Arsenal will be near, but not at the top while he remains manager.
The hires of Sven Mislintat from Borussia Dortmund as Head of Recruitment and Raul Sanllehi from Barcelona as Chief Negotiator show that the transition to a new setup has begun. Future success will be dependent on the club’s next Head Coach appointment having a similar impact to the last one.
Chelsea has an excellent team, but a thin squad. Like Jose Mourinho before him, Antonio Conte fell out with his superiors when last season’s League trophy win was not rewarded with ambition in the transfer market. Unlike Mourinho in 2015/16, Conte has kept the team competitive, but it is now an open secret that he will be leaving after this season. Carlo Ancelotti is in the frame to return to the club where he won the League and FA Cup double in 2010. He would probably guarantee a more aesthetically pleasing style of football, but he (or whichever other coach replaces Conte) will need the financial backing that his two immediate predecessors were denied to catch up with the new standards being set by Manchester City.
The previous paradigm shifting Premier League managerial appointments were made when Arsenal hired Arsene Wenger in 1996 and when Jose Mourinho first joined Chelsea in 2004. In both cases, sports science, tactics and player recruitment in English football were revolutionised and Alex Ferguson needed to up his game (ultimately to Champions League winning level) for his Manchester United squads to catch up.
In addition to astute signings, those Manchester United sides hit their peak when young players already at the club, such as Beckham and Scholes, and later Rooney and Ronaldo, were able to raise their performance levels from promising to elite. Since joining the club, Jose Mourinho has improved the team with his signings, but his capacity to mount a credible challenge to Manchester City will be largely dependent upon Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford’s learning curves. Both are exceptional attacking talents, but they will need to match the consistent match winning impact now being shown by another young forward, at Manchester City: Raheem Sterling.
United will need upgrades at fullback, depth in central midfield and a more consistent goal threat before they can match the best, domestically or in Europe.
In all of European club football, only PSG and Manchester City have scored more goals than Liverpool so far this season. Their “fab four” up front, allied with Jurgen Klopp’s counterpressing tactics, combine for a world class attack. Virgil van Dijk’s signing from Southampton this January will bring speed, physical presence and composure to their central defence and, in a deal already agreed with RB Leipzig for next season, the acquisition of Naby Keita will add a world class midfield dynamo to their ranks.
In terms of potential, at this stage Liverpool may be the best placed team to go toe to toe with Manchester City. However, they will need to find a better balance, particularly defensively, before they can reach that level. Their goalkeepers are simply not good enough, their high pressing system is crying out for a positionally aware defensive midfielder and their inability to retain possession to protect a narrow lead continues to cost them points.
Their coach and their forwards are of the requisite calibre. Two or three gems from the scouting department could get Liverpool back in the picture for the Premier League title.
Ultimately, though, the fate of the Premier League title, at least over the next couple of seasons is likely to lie in Manchester City’s own hands. They have the world’s best coach, a talented young squad, smart administrators and virtually unlimited funds available for recruitment from the UAE’s $2.5 trillion sovereign wealth.
Board bureaucracy and media warfare with then Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho had Guardiola exhausted at Barcelona after four historic seasons as Head Coach. At Bayern Munich, despite three league titles, he was ready to move on after a three year cycle. Now, at Manchester City, he is in the second year of a three year contract. He is likely to extend this period, but the rest of the Premier League’s best hope may be that he once again gets itchy feet and moves on to a new challenge before long. It will be quite an achievement if any of his rivals are able to win the league while he remains City manager.