Just eight games into the season, Manchester City has already suffered two losses and a draw. That has left the team eight points behind Liverpool in the title race. It’s easy to point to the past and state that the Merseysiders have been here before, even with a ten-point advantage and still found a way to bottle it. Also, on the flip side, the Sky Blues have clawed back from a losing position and still triumphed in the end. Several times.
Knowing that does offer some consolation and raise hope that things will be turned around once again. Afterall it’s quite early in the campaign. There are still 30 league games to play over the next seven months. In that time, a lot would have happened. Players and teams will lose form and gain it again. Injuries will occur and teams will suffer as a result.
But you can’t bank on Liverpool faltering again. Jurgen Klopp and his men have learnt from history and are better prepared to avoid a repeat of such.
Speaking of injuries, City has had a fair share quite early in the campaign. Here’s the role call: Leroy Sane, Aymeric Laporte, John Stones, Benjamin Mendy and Kevin De Bruyne have all been hindered by injuries already. These are some of City’s best players. While Sane may not have been missed much as a result of the availability of suitable like-for-like replacements in Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva, it’s not the same across board.
Laporte is virtually irreplaceable in the team.
Manager Pep Guardiola described him as the best left-sided center-back in the world. And that was not mere flattery. The Frenchman is that good. Of course, if Man City won last season’s Champions League, he would be viewed differently than he currently is by many more people. But his absence in the side so far has showed why his manager rates him so highly.
His partnership with Stones was expected to be the future for City. At a time when Liverpool’s center-back Virgil van Dijk has been crowned UEFA Player of the Year and his partner Joel Matip is winning the Premier League Player of the Month award for helping keep things tight at the back for the Reds, Man City is conceding seven goals in three league matches to record two losses and a draw. Although they did not happen consecutively, the defeats to Norwich and Wolves added to the draw against Tottenham have occurred within the last several weeks.
The absence of the trio of Laporte, Stones and Mendy means City’s defence is a makeshift one at the moment. Nicolas Otamendi is a good defender, but not at the level of the former duo. Fernandinho is a loyal servant ready to go out of his way to please his master, but as far as central defence is concerned, it’s not his forte. As it is said, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
So far, the Brazilian has performed above average. But will his partnership with Otamendi be good enough moving forward? Let’s just say Stones and Laporte can’t come back soon enough. The former Athletic Club man is expected back around February. It could take until March before he regains top form. Will the damage have been done already by then?
The stakes are getting higher in the League Cup. Soon, the FA Cup will kick in. Then, there’s the Champions League to contend with. There’s so much on the plate that Liverpool can easily extend the lead at the top of the league table if the injuries persist for City.
Mother luck also seems to be smiling at the Anfield side. Sadio Mané got a dubious penalty against Paris Saint-Germain in last season’s Champions League at the Parc des Princes. That goal alongside a 1-0 victory at Anfield helped the team beat Napoli in the end on goal difference to qualify from the group. The rest is history.
Mane’s last-minute penalty against Leicester last weekend brought back memories. And when the side also found things difficult against Sheffield United the week before, the home team’s goalkeeper helped put the ball in his own net to hand Klopp’s men victory. Yet, Manchester City’s injury problems could be the biggest help to the Reds’ course.
So unless some or all of Stones, De Bruyne, Mendy and to some extent Laporte play a significant role in City’s progress this season, the Premier League title will change hands.