Man City hand Arsenal and Liverpool major title boost... but don't write Pep Guardiola's side off yet | OneFootball

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Evening Standard

·7 December 2023

Man City hand Arsenal and Liverpool major title boost... but don't write Pep Guardiola's side off yet

Article image:Man City hand Arsenal and Liverpool major title boost... but don't write Pep Guardiola's side off yet
Article image:Man City hand Arsenal and Liverpool major title boost... but don't write Pep Guardiola's side off yet

Was this the night the title race was blown wide open?


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Manchester City slumped to a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa, leaving them six points behind leaders Arsenal and winless in four Premier League games for the first time since April 2017.

Afterwards, manager Pep Guardiola admitted his side are “struggling” and the stats make for worrying reading for the treble winners. At Villa Park, City managed just two shots, the fewest-ever by a Guardiola team in 535 matches, and faced 22 — the most conceded by one of the Spaniard’s sides in the same period. This was not just defeat; it was domination.

The game further underlined the importance of midfield lynchpin Rodri, serving a one-match ban, and City have now lost all four games the Spaniard has missed this season.

Credit should go to Unai Emery’s outstanding Villa, who are obviously serious top-four contenders and, should they beat Arsenal at home on Saturday, might even have grander ambitions yet.

Article image:Man City hand Arsenal and Liverpool major title boost... but don't write Pep Guardiola's side off yet

Unai Emery welcomes his former club to Villa Park in a huge clash on Saturday

AFP via Getty Images

It is the Gunners and Liverpool, the current two top, who will be eyeing City’s downturn with the most interest, however, amid a sense that Guardiola’s side have rarely been more vulnerable since they last surrendered the title in 2019-20. City’s cloak of invincibility appears to have slipped and a number of teams are sensing an opportunity.

Tottenham, who drew 3-3 at the Etihad on Sunday, often manage a good result against Guardiola’s sides but never stopped believing they were worthy of at least a point, despite being without 10 first-team players, while even Mauricio Pochettino’s disorganised Chelsea looked full of belief and attacking menace in a 4-4 draw in west London last month.

Wolves, Newcastle and Arsenal have also taken the game to City and won this season and Luton, buoyed by scoring three at home against Mikel Arteta’s side, will surely be the next to have a go at Kenilworth Road on Sunday. There is every reason to attack City; the 17 goals they have conceded across their first 15 League matches is the highest since 2009-10, when they finished fifth.

Article image:Man City hand Arsenal and Liverpool major title boost... but don't write Pep Guardiola's side off yet

There is currently an unusual vulnerability to Pep Guardiola's side

PA

Whatever the numbers and vibes, it would still take an almighty fool to doubt Guardiola’s winning machine. Mid-winter feels like the point in practically every season when City look fallible. At this exact stage last season, City trailed Arsenal by a similar margin — five points — and by mid-January the gap had increased to eight. No one needs reminding what happened next.

And in their 2018-19 title-winning season, City were 10 points off top spot after 19 games and still went on to win the League.

Guardiola teams always tend to find their rhythm in the new year, and this season City have arguably the League’s most influential player in Kevin De Bruyne to return and a transfer window to buy competition for Rodri.

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