Should Manchester City be lauded for winning every game that it should win? The current Premier League leaders have won nine straight matches in domestic play—13 overall, when you count the various cups that the club is still in; its last loss was to Tottenham on Nov. 21—and have opened up a three-point lead with one fewer game played over its city rivals, Manchester United.
It hasn’t been the most impressive of runs on paper: During the club’s win streak in the Premier League, it has played only one team, Chelsea, that could be considered a top-four contender, and that match took place on Jan. 3 and while the Blues were still under the stewardship of Frank Lampard. Times have changed, but one thing that hasn’t is that City continues to pick up three points where it should. That counts as something of a surprise in a wide-open season that has tried its hardest to not make any sense at all.
The latest showing of confident dominance, Wednesday’s 2-0 victory against 16th place Burnley, was pretty much over as soon as it began. In the third minute, Bernardo Silva’s shot was poorly parried away by the usually excellent Nick Pope, only to find Gabriel Jesus’s head for an exceedingly easy goal:
City doubled its lead, and effectively ended the contest, in the 38th minute via a gorgeous low cross from İlkay Gündoğan, converted with ease by Raheem Sterling:
Given both the lingering coronavirus effect as well as the fatigue brought on by the compressed schedule, a win over a bottom-feeder that would have hardly raised an eyebrow in previous seasons becomes an impressive show of could-not-be-bothered skill, one that City’s rivals have not consistently hit this year. There is a gulf in talent between City and Burnley, but the same could have been said about Liverpool and Aston Villa before the latter pounded the reigning champs 7-2 in October. Manchester United just recently lost to last-place Sheffield United. Tottenham is Tottenham, and so it lost to 17th place Brighton over the weekend. That appears to be the standard for this season; the bad teams are still bad, but the good teams are already running on fumes. Well, except for City.
It’s true that the Cityzens have not been tested by an elite side in months, and the last time they faced a team in good form—that aforementioned Tottenham match—they lost. It’s also true that the second of two megawatt City-Liverpool matches will take place this coming Sunday, and a resurgent Pool Boys squad could easily end City’s high-flying streak. That game will be followed by clashes with Tottenham and Arsenal, fellow Big Six members that will not roll over as Burnley did on Wednesday. But that misses the point, really. City could lose that Liverpool match 7-0 and it still would be in prime position to walk away with the league, simply by doing what it almost always does in England: destroy the bad teams, grab enough points from the title rivals, and call it a day.
That might even be overkill in this precarious season, particularly given that the team hasn’t relied on one specific player that could tank them if he were to receive an injury. Sure, Kevin De Bruyne has been his usual excellent self, notching 10 assists in the league. But the absence of Sergio Agüero has been a blessing in a sky-blue disguise, allowing Pep Guardiola to spread the attacks around his myriad of talented scorers and playmakers. Hell, Gündoğan is leading the team in goals with seven! That’s the same Gündoğan who was obviously washed as recently as last season.
And though City is scoring at a lower rate than in years past—only 39 goals in 21 matches—it has made up for it with a suddenly stout defense. New signing Rúben Dias has been a revelation at the back, playing the most minutes of any outfield player, while John Stones continues to confound anyone who thinks they know exactly how good he is; this season, the answer is “very,” especially next to Dias. The pair have combined for 12 clean sheets in 13 starts together. Ederson is still perhaps too wild in goal, but it hasn’t mattered; the combination of defensive talent is finally paying off, and City has surrendered eight fewer goals than the next best defense in the league. It’s hard to see the team drop points when it simply refuses to give up goals to minnows.
Will this winter run continue as other teams struggle to survive the compressed schedule? Will the club slip back to Earth, a place it was familiar with at the start of the season? It’s all possible, though doubting Manchester City in the Guardiola era has led to exactly one moment of vindication, with last year’s Liverpool runaway title. It’s more likely that the side will continue to steamroll its way through normalcy while the league falls apart around it, a lone beacon of stability in this most ridiculous of years.