What was pertinent during Manchester City’s back-to-back title-winning campaigns, between 2017 and 2019, was their ability to start strong. City had won the first game of their Premier League campaign for 10 consecutive seasons before their last Sunday’s loss to Tottenham Hotspur. The Blues seemed out of sorts in North London. Misplaced passes and sloppy defending are characteristics you would associate with a side who haven’t had much of a pre-season and that can be said for the Blues. Many of City’s first-team stars have been back training just two weeks with the likes of Ederson, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, John Stones, and Kyle Walker returning just last Monday. Six days before their season began.
Last year, Pep Guardiola repeatedly defended City and rivals Manchester United’s sluggish starts as a result of ‘no’ pre-season. Both Manchester clubs were involved in the latter stages of the Champions League and Europa League midway through August with players then receiving some much-needed time off.
City dropped 16 points in their first 13 games last term and were labouring in 13th come late November. Defeats to Leicester and at Spurs as well as dropped points against Leeds United, West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion left City clambering. 15 straight wins between December and March quickly catapulted the Blues into a commanding lead at the top of the table. City won an English record 21 consecutive matches in all competitions but Pep won’t want to rely on such a streak yet again.
The champions dropped just two points from the first 39 on offer during the 2017/18 season which seen them accumulate the league record 100 points. The following season they dropped just four points after the same number of games. However, a slow start in 2019/20 cost Pep’s men dearly. 11 lost points from the first 13 games saw Liverpool take advantage. The Reds went on to capture their first-ever Premier League title and they finished 18 points ahead of City in the process.
Laying down a marker
City also put together lengthy unbeaten runs during those back-to-back title wins. The Blues went 20 games without a loss during the 2017/18 season when Liverpool brought to an end their record-setting 18 –game winning streak in mid-January 2018. Likewise in the 2018/19 season, City were 15 games in before tasting defeat at Stamford Bridge, losing 2-0 to Chelsea on December 8th, 2018.
The defeat to Spurs will have been a kick in the teeth for Pep and his players but a home game against Norwich City this weekend provides the Blues with an opportunity to bounce straight back. City picked up more points at home (41) last season than any other side and with fans returning to the Etihad Stadium this weekend, one can expect the champions to put on a show. Norwich were beaten 5-0 here during the final weekend of the 2019/20 season but their supporters will have fond memories of that 3-2 victory at Carrow Road in the reverse fixture during the same campaign.