Just like how you can cut all the flowers but can't prevent the onset of Spring, Manchester City's title charge is set to trample over their rivals as they close out the show earlier than usual as they will be crowned champions come May.
Manchester City have been the beacon of consistency as displayed in the Premier League in recent years and it's the same old story this season as they are steamrolling their way through the competition halfway through the season. Pep Guardiola's side ended 2021 with the most victories in a calendar year and they continued from where they left off as they beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium courtesy of a last-minute Rodri winner.
It was not a typical City performance where they imposed their will on the opponents and enjoyed a comfortable day at the office in the end but it was undoubtedly the kind of gritty and determined performance that wins titles.
Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel must have been waiting in bated breath until 90 minutes as they anticipated a rare City slip up but Rodri had other things on his mind as he steered the ball home from close range in the 93rd home to take home all three points. The Manchester club were far from their best against the Gunners, as pointed out by Guardiola himself, "Congratulations, they[Arsenal] were better. We face a team who struggled to be in top four and start the season at the bottom. Now they are in the top four.
"We try to analyse many things, sometimes the coin falls on your side sometimes the other side. We know how it means to win at the Emirates at the moment and the good team they are. It was difficult and know we have time to rest."
But they did what Champions do and it was undoubtedly the kind of result that wins titles.
Rodri's last-minute must have sucked the life out of Chelsea and Liverpool who would have not been faulted for thinking that the champions would falter until the 90th minute. The showdown between the London club and the Merseyside club the next day now proved to be a game filled with huge implications for both teams as they looked to not be too far behind on City’s trail.
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah provided the goods for the Reds within the first half-hour of their encounter as they looked to usher in a splash of red on a bright blue day in West London. But Chelsea proved that they were not ones to simply back down as Mateo Kovacic rifled home a rare screamer and then Christian Pulisic pulled off a lovely finish rectifying his earlier miss as Chelsea scored two in the space of four minutes just before the whistle for half-time was blown.
In the end, the two sides played out a majestic 2-2 draw with many calling it the game of the season and yet it mattered not because City won. The thrilling contest was definitely a treat to admire but in the grand scheme of Premier League footbally things, Manchester City were truly the only winners. The truth of the matter, at least in my opinion, is that both teams are not likely to get near Guardiola's team.
City's side gap to Chelsea is 10 and 11 to Liverpool although Klopp's men have a game in hand to play.
The Reds are set to miss out on both Salah and Mane alongside Naby Keita for the rest of January as they represent their homelands at AFCON. Not only that, they have also been dismantled with a Covid-19 outbreak as they had to shut down their training ground and halt preparations for a short while. It is tough to imagine them hitting top gear under these circumstances and make no mistake about it they will need to put the pedal to the metal to have any chance of catching up with and competing with City over the title.
To be fair injuries, suspensions, and absence of their manager during their encounter with the Blues are all unlucky circumstances but this was another game they could and should have won to keep the title race alive. This was their sixth draw of their campaign and while this Liverpool side are excellent, they are a shadow of the relentless and ruthless side that clinched victories by any means necessary two years ago as they ended their title drought.
The defensive presences of Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez, and Joel Matip used to invoke fear in their opponents in that glorious season but they look a discount version of themselves as the Merseyside club have been particularly leaky at the back this season. The arrogance and confidence that they displayed in the season where they clinched their first-ever Premier League title have deserted them and that will cost them this season.
On the other hand, Chelsea have been sturdy and steadily on the rise this campaign as Tuchel has done a masterful job of implementing his system and grinding out favourable results. They were on par and on course to prove all their critics correct at the start of the season with many predicting that the Blues, with the addition of Romelu Lukaku, were the side to beat and then suddenly it has all come to a halt in the last month.
Chelsea's last five home games in the Premier League:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 29, 2021
◉ Chelsea 1-1 Burnely
◉ Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United
◉ Chelsea 3-2 Leeds
◉ Chelsea 1-1 Everton
◉ Chelsea 1-1 Brighton
Four 1-1 draws. Eight points dropped. 😤 pic.twitter.com/BdmaqupmDT
Since December, the Blues have managed one defeat, four draws, and just three wins in their last eight games and things have gotten worse. Both their first-team fullbacks, who have delivered on the promise of their potential this season, Ben Chilwell and Reece James are now injured and will spend a significant amount of time on the sidelines. The European champions have been running on fumes in recent weeks as a Covid-19 outbreak has plagued them as well with their defense and midfield in particular struggling.
Their attack now faces the familiar problem they faced at the beginning of the season as Romelu Lukaku is yet to be fit into the puzzle by Tuchel either by force or by poise. The Blues often looked better as a unit without the presence of the Belgian as he proved during his injury absence late last year. The Belgian international has since made a goalscoring return to the side but it will be interesting to see how Tuchel manages to retain the 28-year-old's goals without compromising on their compactness and rigidity.
Combine that with the off-the-field drama the former Inter striker instigated by running his mouth at a crucial juncture of the season and creating tensions at Stamford Bridge it is hard to be optimistic over their chances when you consider the big picture in the title race. Even then, even with the double-figure lead and even with Manchester City strangling their opponents into submission, Premier League fans across the world continue to brace themselves for the prospect of a majestic three-team title race.
Many expected Guardiola's side to be challenged for their crown by both Chelsea and Liverpool but right now, just one game into the new year, there is a mounting anti-climactic sense setting in as it looks like City are truly in a class of their own.
53 - Manchester City won 53 matches in all competitions during 2021, a record for an English league club in a single year since the formation of the Football League in 1888. Juggernaut. pic.twitter.com/2x6JwdJIHo— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 31, 2021
But the reality is that neither Chelsea or Liverpool have been able to match the reigning champions' remarkable consistency, something that has made Pep's men a force to reckon with and an intimidating adversary to chase. The Manchester club have not been totally invincible as evidenced by their matches against Arsenal and Brentford over the last few weeks but they always get the job done.
It's impossible to not admit the former Barcelona coach has crafted the perfect recipe that will see them cross the finish line and lift the trophy at the end of the season.
Of course, I could end up with an egg on my face at the end of the season because the Premier League will always be exciting and unpredictable so it is entirely likely that at some point near March or April the gap will be reduced. Chelsea and Liverpool fans will grow to be cautiously optimistic over clinching the title from City's grasp but Guardiola's side are a well-oiled machine that is set to do what they do best.