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Sunday, May 19, 2024

City’s inevitable march to the Premier League title has begun


LONDON — You never know exactly when Manchester City‘s domestic winning run will begin, only that it definitely will begin sometime. It usually starts around this time of year, when the season drifts towards its final third, when the title race starts to narrow but is still anyone’s to win; when you just begin to doubt whether Pep Guardiola’s side can do it again.

This year it seems to have begun days after they returned from the Club World Cup and claimed a 3-1 win away at Everton. Since then, City have been inevitably perfect. Of course, they have.

On Monday, after another 3-1 win, this time away at Brentford, they are now on a nine-game winning streak if you include those Club World Cup games in Saudi Arabia. Five of those victories have come in the Premier League, the longest active winning streak in Europe’s top five leagues.

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At some point, all of it begins to take on an air of inevitability. Then again, this weekend has seemed a little familiar. There was Liverpool, leaders of the Premier League for the past few weeks, dropping points away at Arsenal and allowing City just a narrow a window of opportunity. Reds boss Jurgen Klopp — someone who seems finally out of energy to keep chasing Guardiola — insisted after the match that he expects City to win every game. He knows that feeling too well. We all do.

City entered Monday’s clash with two games in hand on Liverpool — both to be played against Brentford, with the second to be played on Feb. 20. Yet, the Bees were one of only four teams to beat eventual-champions City in the Premier League last season, and the only team to beat them twice.

“I know the experience,” Guardiola told a post-match news conference. Midway through the first half, it looked as though that may happen again.

Brentford had been floating balls over the head of City left-back Joško Gvardiol and into the channel but without much luck, until Neal Maupay collected a long goal kick through the middle and ran through on goal, putting the hosts into the lead.

But it wasn’t time to doubt City again, though, to wonder if this year — one that has seen Klopp announce a stunning exit, and even seen clubs finally show restraint in the transfer market — would actually bring something different.

Phil Foden, amid maybe the best season of his career, took charge of the game. Brentford goalkeeper Mark Flekken who, up until that point, had been the player of the match with nine saves and an assist, was helpless to stop Foden’s comfortable strike on the stroke of half-time. After that, Foden and City never looked back.

Foden, 23, sums up just how versatile and talented this City side can be. His second goal came from another well-timed run into the box, finishing off a delightful Kevin De Bruyne cross. Soon after, Foden completed his hat trick, running onto a layoff from Erling Haaland, brushing off two defenders and slotting home to ensure another City win.

“Phil is having the most influencing season on the team in terms of goals and assists,” Guardiola said. “How he plays simple, how he is more aggressive. He has the pleasure to score goals and the threat when he’s close to it … He is an exceptional player. Such a short [young] age, but more than 250 games for City.

“He loves to play football. When you see the way he plays, it’s like playing in the street when you are a little boy. He has this amateurism. This season has been so important for us.”

After Foden’s third goal, victory was inevitable. It is a feeling City know all too well, and one that will define the talk around the Premier League title race for as long as they keep it going. Guardiola’s side are now within two points of leaders Liverpool, with a game in hand, and beginning a run of four games against bottom-half opposition — Everton, Chelsea and Brentford all at home followed by AFC Bournemouth away.

History says they will more than likely pull it off. In 2021, City went on an incredible 21-game winning run that helped them return the Premier League title to Manchester. Last season, City broke off a 10-game winning streak on the way to the Treble.

This season, City are looking to make more history this season by becoming the first team to win the Premier League for a fourth straight time. It will take the same unrelenting effort to do so, the task now is clear.

Manchester City’s streak has begun: Now they must keep it going.

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