No team has been able to defend the Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 2008/09.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have a better chance to achieve this than any past winners from this decade.
‘Pep’s Centurions’ broke several records in their title-winning season. Can they go one further and defend it? The evidence so far suggests they probably could. Here’s why:
SHUTDOWN AT THE BACK
City’s frontline is arguably the most fearsome attack in England. They have scored 36 goals this season already, at a rate of three goals per match.
And yet, a case can be made their defence has outperformed their attack this season. This argument has tangible roots, but is further strengthened by the fact City have conceded just five goals in 12 games.
Last season, the backline was City’s major concern. But Pep clearly did his homework before stepping into the 2018/19 season.
Playing a high line begs for trouble on the counter and this was how most of the chances were conceded last season.
City are now reaping rewards of their swoop of Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte in January. The Basque has adapted to Guardiola’s style very well and has started off his first full season at the club on a commanding note.
John Stones did not enjoy a great season at an individual level, but showed promise in the later stages. The Englishman has now cemented his spot as a starter, alongside Laporte.
Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany provide further depth and are more than able to fill in at centre-back if required.
MASTERY OF THE SYSTEM AND RESULTANT CONSISTENCY
That most teams in the league are familiar with Guardiola’s brand of football now, and will be prepared to tackle them, is a legitimate argument against City’s chances of repeating their exploits from last season.
However, it’s also true City players themselves have had the time to master the system to absolute perfection.
David Silva and Bernardo Silva can find each other in their sleep, Sergio Aguero bursts into space involuntarily. Every player knows his role and executes it with seamless perfection.
City’s games have now become robotic, predictable. But there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
City distort the defensive shape of their opponents and then pull the trigger. If the teams keep their shape intact, City have players who can shoot from distance.
Pep’s plan B is as simple as his plan A and doesn’t need a plan C. The players have delivered until now and there’s nothing to suggest that they won’t continue to do so as the season takes shape.
QUALITY ON THE BENCH
A strong bench with players fighting for their spot in the starting line-up has ensured an improvement at an individual level at almost every position.
The players can’t take their spot in the lineup for granted and face a constant need to exceed their limits.
The likes of Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan and Vincent Kompany are made to work for their opportunities. Aguero has Gabriel Jesus competing with him for that striker spot.
Otamendi has work to do if he has to earn his spot in the team again.
Needless to say, this will also come to the team’s assistance at the business end of the tournament when fixture congestion bites.
The strength in the depth is so significant that City’s best player, Kevin De Bruyne, sitting out because of injury for the majority of the season has had no impact on their season, to date.
Guardiola did mention that he will be prioritising the Premier League over the Champions League and if that’s the case, there’s not much any team can do to prevent City from walking the top flight again.