It has been an unexpected start to the season for Manchester City. Unlike in the last two campaigns where the Sky Blues raced to an early lead on the table and subsequently overcame Liverpool’s challenge to lift the Premier League title, it has been the opposite this time around.
Some surprising, even shocking results such as the loss to Norwich City as well as Wolves at the Etihad Stadium have left the team scrambling to stay alive in the title race. This has coincided with Liverpool’s superb start to the campaign that has seen Jurgen Klopp’s men win all but one of their opening 13 matches in the season. The only draw came away at Manchester United.
That has seen the reigning Premier League champions fall behind in the title race so early in the campaign. Sure, nine points is not such a huge gap to close in the Premier League with 25 games still left to play. That is especially so when the team leading the race is Liverpool. The Anfield side has a long history of capitulating in the title race even after taking a healthy lead. The possibility of such a scenario unfolding again cannot be ruled out. Yet, expecting that to continue to happen to the team season after season (despite its improvement and transformation) could be naive.
The fact that the Merseysiders are now the European Champions shows how far the team has come under Jurgen Klopp. The German tactician has slowly but meticulously built a strong team capable of beating any side in world football, including Manchester City to the title. The results achieved so far remain the best evidence to prove the point. When a team faces all the sides that finished in the top six the previous season and emerges with 16 out of the 18 points on offer, it’s a clear demonstration of a readiness to conquer the league.
While not suggesting Man City should give up on the Premier League title, putting Champions League ahead in the priority list at this point will serve the Cityzens well. Afterall, City have won all the other trophies on offer domestically in the last few years. The last frontier to conquer is the continent.
At a time when success in europe has become the main measure for success, City must stand up to be counted. The likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have continental crowns to show for periods when they have had some of the best teams on the continent. The Sky Blues have played some of the best football in Europe in the last few seasons under Pep Guardiola.
The Catalan gaffer will not remain at the Etihad Stadium forever. In fact, talk of when he will leave the club is already gathering momentum. This is a good time, if not the best, to go for continental glory. Although injuries to some key players have affected the team somewhat this term, the business end of the Champions League kicks in from February. That’s when players like Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane are expected to join the team.
With seven games to go in the competition after the group stage, the team can be conditioned to go all the way. The very idea of placing a premium on success in the competition (without compromising commitment to domestic success) could spur the players to do even better. There’s a need to build the players’ belief to the point it controls them. That’s what Klopp has done at Liverpool.
Consequently, the club’s commitment to win the Premier League has become a key reason the Reds have been on fire in the division this term. Klopp has been telling everyone that cares to listen how much he wants to win the league, despite acknowledging the difficulty. It will be great to also see such commitment to win the Champions League from Guardiola.
If not now, when?