Now that we have another International break out-of-the-way, we can concentrate again on the runners and riders in the Premier League race. For players, managers and fans alike, these enforced breaks spoil the momentum that has been building as not one team seems to be the front-runners, making it the most exciting Premier League since its inception back in 1992. Few in the first months of the season would have looked much further than The Etihad for the potential winners, with Pep Guardiola’s revolution making a bet on Man City winning the title a very popular choice.
They won their first six Premier League games, ten in all competitions and looked unstoppable. Then they seemed to suffer a reaction to the 3-3 draw at Celtic, resulting in a five game win-less streak which gave the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs an opportunity to close the gap. Coming into this weekend’s fixtures, the top four are separated by just two points with City facing a tricky trip to Crystal Palace.
Compared to this time last season, City and Arsenal are one point worse off, Liverpool nine better and Chelsea the biggest improvers, being 14 points better. Last season Leicester City and West Ham provided the additional challenge to the traditional teams, taking advantage of the transitional periods at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Anfield. It is highly unlikely that we will see something similar this season.
City face a tough December, having to play Chelsea and Arsenal at home, whilst going to Anfield on New Year’s Eve. Their home form has been the concern in the Premier League in the last month, dropping points against Everton, Southampton and Middlesbrough, although the 3-1 win over Barcelona certainly put a few critics back in their box, temporarily. Their only loss to date has been away at Sours last month.
City had sixteen players away on International duty this week, and if you believe stories emerging this week, Guardiola could soon have another as Lionel Messi, a player who has won every honour at a club level, seems intent on leaving the Nou Camp when his current contract expires in 18 months time. Barca will not want him to leave for nothing and will know that City have the money to fund a deal. Messi counts Guardiola as a mentor and someone who he respects highly, whilst fellow Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero is a close friend. The press have obviously already put two and two together and assume this is a done deal.
For now, Guardiola’s focus will be on getting three points on Saturday, but he will surely have an eye on how he can strengthen his squad once the transfer window opens in January, and whether that may include a short hop across to Catalunya to seal the deal with Messi.