Manchester City scored 24 goals in the first six Premier League games last season. Compared to just nine in the same number of matches this term, it’s clear where the team is struggling.
The season began with record goalscorer Sergio Aguero sidelined while still recovering from a knee operation that kept him out of action for five months. And then second-choice Gabriel Jesus was out with a muscle problem after the first league outing against Wolves. That was back in September. The Brazilian has missed the last nine matches in all competitions since.
Although Aguero did return to play a part in a few games with a significant contribution against Arsenal, he suffered another setback against West Ham as the team settled for a 1-1 draw. The 32-year-old picked up a hamstring problem during the game and had to be withdrawn after 45 minutes. He is expected to be out until after the international break.
Meanwhile, Jesus has stated he is “happy to be back” having resumed training with the team. That puts him in contention for selection as City face Olympiakos and Liverpool on Tuesday and Sunday respectively.
New boy Ferran Torres has been used as emergency striker in the last few of games. But the young Spaniard has struggled to perform out of position in the league despite scoring back-to-back against Porto and Marseille in the Champions League.
Pep Guardiola admitted after the 1-0 win over Sheffield United on Saturday that the team are not scoring enough goals. But he can heave a sigh of relief with Jesus ready to save the situation. The 23-year-old may not be as prolific as Aguero, but his performance in recent times has been encouraging.
He contributed a combined 20 goals and 10 assists in league and Champions League football last term. Such figures will go a long way to help the team in both competitions this season. Guardiola has dearly missed the presence of a striker up front, and Jesus’ return will be a huge boost for the side.
Liverpool will visit the Etihad Stadium on Sunday hoping to consolidate their lead on the table as Jurgen Klopp aims to retain the title. Getting a result from the encounter will be vital for the Blues. After running away with the title last term, Guardiola will need to prevent a repeat of such. Despite losing Virgil Van Dijk to a long-term injury, the Reds are still the team to beat in the title.
City’s performance on Sunday will give a strong indication of how the title race will go this time around. Already five points behind the Anfield side on the table, a loss here could be costly for two reasons.
- The Opposition has Become Stronger
All of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham have strengthened. Frank Lampard and Jose Mourinho in particular are tipped to lead their sides to challenge for the title. Given their experience and history, Man United cannot be ruled out of the race. The same applies to Mourinho.
Mikel Arteta is also turning heads at the Emirates Stadium. Having led the Gunners to an unlikely FA Cup triumph last term, beating City and Chelsea on the way, winning the league is not impossible. His recent 1-0 triumph over United at Old Trafford ended 14 years of dominance in the fixture by the homeside. It’s also a sign of bigger things to come for the side.
2. Injury Setbacks and Effects of Covid-19
Yes, injuries have so far proved to be a factor in the title race. Among the top six teams, City have been most hit with all of Aguero, Aymeric Laporte, Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo, Kevin De Bruyne as well as Jesus, John Stones, Benjamin Mendy, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Fernandinho suffering one issue or the other.
Liverpool fans may be the only ones who will want to argue they have been most hit. The trend of injuries could continue all season as the heavy schedule takes it toll on the players. That’s especially for the teams playing in several competitions.
The effects of Covid-19 could also play a role as players can test positive at any time. Results like the 7-2 mauling of Liverpool by Aston Villa coincided with Sadio Mane testing positive to the virus. The Senegalese’ absence was surely felt by the Anfield side. Such cases could yet happen as the season progresses.
For now though, Guardiola and City can be happy about Jesus’ return. Facing Liverpool with a striker should be a confidence booster for the whole team.