Manchester City are expected to stay in London for the New Year, with only three days between their matches at Brentford and Arsenal.
Pep Guardiola is unlikely to allow any kind of festivities to ring in 2022 – just look at what happened when Jack Grealish and Phil Foden had a night on the town recently – but the mood in camp will be high.
City have ended the year as they started it – relentlessly winning football matches and taking control of the Premier League title race in the process.
Manchester City have moved six points ahead of the top of the Premier League over Christmas
It’s City’s title to lose from here with Pep Guardiola’s team on a win in nine games
Already six free for Liverpool and Chelsea, that margin could increase on Wednesday night
They have won their last nine league games and if they become 10 at Brentford on Wednesday night, the worst case scenario is that they will be six points ahead at the top of the table.
In the unlikely event that Chelsea lose at home to Brighton, that margin could be as much as nine, but the fact remains – it’s already City’s title to lose this season.
There were plenty of Liverpool fans happy to concede the championship to Guardiola’s side for the second season in a row after falling 1-0 at Leicester City on Tuesday.
Jurgen Klopp admitted afterwards that it is already a ‘big hole’ for City, and there is undoubtedly no margin for error for both Liverpool or Chelsea now.
It’s all very reminiscent of last season, when City went 19 league games – equivalent to half a season – unbeaten between the end of November and the beginning of March, where they won all but two of them and drove without difficulty.
Liverpool’s defeat to Leicester on Tuesday came as a massive blow to their title hopes
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp cuts a frustrated figure on the sidelines at King Power
Now it looks like they are slipping into top gear again and what is even more ominous is that Guardiola said he only had 14 outfield players available before the Boxing Day match with Leicester City.
After 27 minutes, they were ahead 4-0, and in the end, they won 6-3 with five different goal scorers.
If it’s an exhausted City team, then good luck to the opponents when they are at full strength.
The reasons why City win a fourth Premier League title in five seasons are compelling. But is there any way they can be stopped?
In fact, Leicester can offer hope despite their heavy defeat. After going four down, they scored the next three goals over a 10-minute period in the second half where City looked really vulnerable.
In total, the Foxes managed 14 shots and eight on goal despite enjoying only 28 percent of the ball, which showed City can be revealed on the counter-attack. It was 4-3 at the break.
Leicester managed to reveal some City weaknesses, but still sent six on the second day of Christmas
Chelsea are trying to keep up with City, but Thomas Tuchel’s team lost points this month
Next six for the top three
Only Premier League matches
us Brentford (A)
Saturday Arsenal (A)
Jan 15 Chelsea (H)
22 jan Southampton (A)
Feb 9 Brentford (H)
Feb 12 Norwich (A)
Sunday Chelsea (A)
Jan 16 Brentford (H)
Jan 23 Palace (A)
Feb 10 Leicester (H)
Feb 13 Burnley (A)
Feb 19 Norwich (H)
Weds Brighton (H)
Sun Liverpool (H)
Jan 15 Man City (A)
Jan 23 Spurs (H)
Feb 19 Palace (A)
Feb 26 Leicester (H)
If a Leicester team ravaged by illness and injury could have City at stake, then Arsenal and Chelsea could also in City’s next two league games after Brentford.
While City will be overwhelming favorites to beat the Bees, they could potentially lose points against a resurgent Arsenal on New Year’s Day and other title challengers Chelsea at the Etihad on 15 January.
These games will be the key – if City win both, they are steaming ready at the top. But if they stumble, both Chelsea and Liverpool will breathe a sigh of relief again.
Liverpool will certainly be hoping to slip as they are being hit hard by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane – 31 goals between them in all competitions this season so far – on their way to the Africa Cup of Nations.
City will lose Riyad Mahrez to the Africa Cup of Nations, but have more than enough to handle
Liverpool, meanwhile, are ready to lose their two top scorers – Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah
City will only lose Riyad Mahrez from Algeria to the tournament, which starts in Cameroon on 9 January. Although Mahrez is their top scorer this season, they have so much attacking strength that it does not feel like such a big loss.
Chelsea are, as it happens, also quite easily affected as only goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from Senegal is on his way away. Kepa Arrizabalaga has played a handful of matches this season and will step in.
The depth of quality in City’s squad means they are also best equipped to ride out any Covid or injury storms that come their way in the second half of the season.
Guardiola was able to start both Grealish and Foden on the bench for the Leicester match and still see his team score six times. They have also scored seven against Leeds and four at Newcastle alone in the last fourteen days.
They may have been forced to fill the bench with youth team players, but when your starting lineup boasts Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling, plus you can call Grealish, Foden and Gabriel Jesus from subs, it’s really not that big of a problem.
City made easy on the absence of Jack Grealish (left) and Phil Foden in the Leicester match
The other thing that works in City’s favor is that Chelsea and Liverpool meet on January 2, the day after their visit to the Emirates.
For Guardiola and his players, especially if they beat Arsenal, it will be feet up and see who loses the points.
It is certainly City in the enviable position. They have not only a remarkable squad depth, but all that momentum and also the recent experience of getting over the finish line in a Premier League title race.
But they are not entirely infallible. Leicester were able to cut through them and put them under severe pressure; Arsenal and Chelsea will look to do the same in the upcoming matches.
We are only in January, with half of the season left to play, but these matches could very well represent the last chance to stop City from running away for yet another title.