•Just over a month ago, a tense three-way title race looked in-store as Chelsea and Liverpool kept pace with Pep Guardiola’s side.
•Third-placed Liverpool were stumbling even before star forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane departed for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Manchester City are marching towards a fourth Premier League title in five years in ruthless fashion, but their dominance threatens to damage the English top-flight’s reputation as football’s most thrilling ride.
Just over a month ago, a tense three-way title race looked in-store as Chelsea and Liverpool kept pace with Pep Guardiola’s side.
But City have stormed into a 10-point lead on the back of an 11-game winning run, making second-placed Chelsea’s visit to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday something of an irrelevance. Hit by injuries and a coronavirus outbreak, Chelsea have endured a damaging dip at the worst possible time.
Third-placed Liverpool were stumbling even before star forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane departed for the Africa Cup of Nations.
City have won 17 of their 21 league games to build a seemingly unassailable lead and turn the title race into a procession once again.
Last season, it was a 19-game unbeaten run between November and March, including just two draws, that swept City to the title, 12 points clear of second-placed Manchester United.
The first of City’s three titles under Guardiola, in 2017/18, was another stroll as they ended 19 points ahead of United and it would be no surprise to see another double-digit margin of victory this season.
City have averaged nearly 95 points in their three title-winning seasons under Guardiola and are on course to reach that tally again.
Their deep pool of world-class talent garners widespread admiration and respect. But for neutrals, the sight of City cantering to the finish line will raise questions about the Premier League’s self-styled status as the most competitive league in Europe.
It is not the first time English football has been dominated by one unrelenting force of course. Liverpool won 11 titles between 1973 and 1990, while during Alex Ferguson’s reign at Old Trafford, which ended in 2013, United lifted the trophy 13 times.
‘A unique team’
Former England defender Gary Neville won the Premier League multiple times at United, but even he has never seen anything like City’s current crop. “I look at Manchester City, they are a unique team,” he said. “We’ve never seen anything like them in this country -- the way in which they play football and dominate the game.
“City have a strong squad, a great manager, a unique way of playing that demoralises teams. It’s a big ask for Chelsea and Liverpool to catch them.”
Graeme Souness, who starred in Liverpool’s midfield during their heyday, rates City as the best ever. “Manchester City have the strongest group of players ever in the history of English football,” said the former Scotland international.
“If some players get injured or go in a downward spiral in terms of form, they can chop it and change it. That is a tremendous strength.”
With United in decline since Ferguson’s retirement, City have seized the throne thanks to their wealthy Abu Dhabi-based owners.
City’s spending power laid the foundations for success and Guardiola’s managerial alchemy ensured expectations were met in spectacular style.
Chelsea and Liverpool have both tried to break City’s stranglehold, but neither have matched the consistency of Guardiola’s men.
Liverpool’s 2020 title triumph suggested a shift in the balance of power but instead looks more likely to have been a blip for a City side who wrestled the silverware back with ease.
Such is City’s array of attacking talent that Guardiola could pay a British-record £100 million ($137 million) for Aston Villa playmaker Jack Grealish ahead of this season and barely need him to make a noticeable impact.
The one glimmer of hope for City’s rivals may be Guardiola’s admission that he is likely to leave the Etihad Stadium when his current contract expires in 2023. For now, that must seem a distant date to Chelsea, Liverpool and the rest of the clubs trailing in City’s wake.