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Why it’s clear for all to see that Pep Guardiola’s side are the team to beat in the title race

They have proved down the years that they can go on long winning runs and blow the opposition away, which is what they are doing right now.
Pep Guardiola's Manchester City are the team to beat this year

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City are the team to beat this year

John Aldridge

ANYONE who finishes ahead of Manchester City will end up as Premier League champions.

I said that in my first Sunday World column of this season back in August and as we approach the halfway point now, it’s clear for all to see that Pep Guardiola’s side are the team to beat.

They have proved down the years that they can go on long winning runs and blow the opposition away, which is what they are doing right now.

Their 7-0 win against Leeds on Tuesday night was their seventh successive Premier League win and I fully expect them to take that total to eight at Newcastle this afternoon.

City are a class outfit and that’s no surprise given the amount of money they have spent in recent years.

You would also expect the same level of consistency from Chelsea given their transfer spending, but Thomas Tuchel’s side has slipped up a few too many times in the last few weeks and they are in danger of falling off the pace at the top.

City and Liverpool are winning week after week, so Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at home to a youthful Everton side on Thursday night was a hammer blow for them.

Now they are four points off the pace at the top of the table and while that is not terminal at this stage, it will be if that gap gets to six or nine points in the coming weeks.

The standards that have been set by City and Liverpool over the last few years are so high and it means that what was normal in the past is no longer acceptable.

By that I mean picking up a draw in a tricky away game was once seen as a decent result, but now it is two dropped points if you are serious about challenging City at the top of the table.

So whatever obstacles are thrown in front of Chelsea and Liverpool ahead of their away games at Wolves and Spurs today, they know they have to find a way to win.

Covid means Chelsea are missing key men like Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner and Liverpool are without Virgil van Dijk (right) and Fabinho for the same reason, but there is no room for excuses.

Manchester City are going to carry on winning and if you don’t match their excellence, they will be out of sight at the top of the table in double-quick time.

They have a magnificent coach in Pep Guardiola and when I look at their squad, they have the quality in reserve to cope with absentees.

That could be more important than ever right now, with the Covid outbreak in the Premier League stretching resources of managers to the full and it could play a key role in the campaign.

Liverpool were without Van Dijk and Fabinho for their 3-1 win against Newcastle on Thursday night and, inevitably, their absence was felt.

Fabinho is so important to the Liverpool team and Newcastle’s goal may not have happened if the Brazilian was doing what he does best right at the very heart of the midfield.

As for Van Dijk, we all know he is the best defender in the world, so he will be a big loss for Liverpool at Tottenham today.

We are in a very strange period of the season right now as the Covid issue has cast a cloud of uncertainty over the game at the busiest time of the year.

Virgil van Dijk is a big loss for Liverpool

Virgil van Dijk is a big loss for Liverpool

Liverpool are due to play five times over the next 14 days and you wonder how many of those matches will go ahead.

Managers are turning up at the training ground every day wondering how many more of their players will get the positive test result and we still don’t really know how many absent players means you can get a game called off.

If the Premier League decides to put a limit on how many positive Covid tests represent a postponed match, clubs could simply suggest they have reached the limit and get a game called off if they are keen to have break and get some injured players back.

So the authorities have to try and hang in there, with the shutdown some managers have proposed not the answer as we don’t know when the matches could start again.

They are predicting 200,000 Covid cases a day in England next week and if Premier League matches are stopped now, they won’t restart if that grim statistic becomes a reality.

There is time at the end of the season for clubs to catch up on games and without a World Cup in June and July, we could extend the season for a few weeks if needed.

So let’s see if clubs can tighten up their Covid policies at training grounds, get through this tricky period and maybe in a few weeks’ time they might be back on track.

The number of players who are refusing to be vaccinated is an issue and in my view, they are being selfish as we all need to be in this together to get out of it.

Yet from a sporting perspective, Liverpool have to find a way to get through today’s game at Tottenham with a win.

This would be a difficult away game in normal circumstances, with Tottenham boasting some quality attacking players and they have picked up their form since Antonio Conte (inset, below) took over as manager.

Yet we are heading into this game today not knowing all the facts about what we can expect.

Liverpool are without Van Dijk and Fabinho again, but what kind of Tottenham team will we see after their Covid problems forced the cancelation of their last three matches?

Preparation is key in the modern game and we just don’t know what Conte (inset) and his coaching staff have been able to do after so many members of his squad had positive tests a couple of weeks back.

I often finish my column with a prediction, but that is impossible right now as we just don’t know what is going on behind the scenes at clubs right now.

Here’s hoping we all get through this period safely and whatever we are still allowed to do by next weekend, my big wish is for Sunday World readers to have a Christmas Day with their families that we all deserve.


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