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Have Manchester City's Rivals Levelled Up this Season?

Is City’s reign at play?

The Club Badges of the So-Called Top Six in English Football Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

Manchester City won the Premier League title comfortably last season. A 14-point gap from Manchester United showed there were just two categories of teams in the division; the best, and the rest. Only in this case one team occupied the former category and the remaining ones the latter.

That was rather unexpected as Liverpool, Chelsea and even Manchester United were expected to give Pep Guardiola and his men a run for their money. Injuries wrecked Liverpool’s ship early into the campaign, leaving Chelsea and United as the main title challengers.

Having splashed over £200m to revamp the squad, Chelsea held much promise. But perhaps then manager Frank Lampard undercut himself by claiming the team was not yet ready to compete for trophies. That seemed to have affected the players’ confidence leading to inconsistent results.

By the time he was let go deep into the campaign, the damage had already been done as the team could no longer mathematical win the title. A top-four finish became Thomas Tuchel’s goal. The German gaffer delivered, even going on to secure the Champions League trophy as well.

Man United could only manage a distant second-place finish with City proving to be the best team in the land for the third time in just four years. City’s dominance seems to have infuriated the rivals as they all strengthened in the summer.

Liverpool beefed up the one position that caused them serious problems last term by securing centre-back Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig to provide quality back-up for Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez. A few other players like Harvey Elliott and Takumi Minamino were brought back to provide squad depth.

But the strength of the team is in the reintegration of key players who have returned from long injury layoffs to join the group. Jurgen Klopp genuinely believes he can do big things with these players as he showed before by claiming both the Champions League and Premier League titles in back-to-back seasons.

Despite possessing one of the best squads in the division at the moment, Chelsea still spent almost £130m to bring in two key signings. Striker Romelu Lukaku joined fresh off winning the Italian Serie A with Inter Milan while Saul Niguez was secured from Atletico Madrid on deadline day.

The result is that for a side that is filled with an abundance of top quality players, it just got stronger.

Speaking of which, the best bit of business must have been done by the red side of Manchester. The Red Devils left the football world in shock with acquisitions that not even the most optimistic of fans could have predicted.

For a team that was already strong enough to be the best of the rest after City last term, adding the vastly experienced Raphael Varane to the defence line is a statement of intent. When England hotspot Jadon Sancho is brought in to boost an attack line now led by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo, only the ignorant will take this team fore granted.

Don’t forget that Arsenal and Tottenham have also spent big. What Leicester City did in 2016 acts as a reminder to everyone that writing off any team at the beginning of the campaign could be a huge mistake. Even the Foxes seem to have something up their sleeves. If only to prove last season’s FA Cup triumph was not a fluke.

With the foregoing where do the Cityzens stand in the title race picture?

One thing should be clear by now. This season is going to be nothing like the last. The competition is much tougher this time around and signing just Jack Grealish doesn’t make City a lot stronger than they were last term.

Guardiola has severally expressed his satisfaction with his squad despite missing out on Harry Kane. The City boss believes he has enough in his team to weather the storm. But if what his rivals have done is anything to go by, he should be cautiously optimistic.