s the title race over? History would suggest so. Liverpool are only the third team in the Premier League era to take 34 points from their opening 12 games. The other two went on to win the title. They were Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City in 2011-12 and Pep Guardiola’s in 2017-18.
Last year, Guardiola’s City took the next highest total on their way to being crowned champions, with 32 points from their opening 12. But their current tally of 25 points is not even enough to register in the top 50 12-game records. Mike Walker’s Norwich City in 1992-93 and Ronald Koeman’s Southampton in 2014-15 both made better starts.
As we enter the third and final autumn international break, eight points separate first from second, another eight points separate fourth from fifth and three points between 17th and 18th. Only the relegation battle appears relatively open and undecided. The title race and top-four places already look settled.
But at the very top of the league, these comparisons with previous seasons have been rendered meaningless. There is no such thing as history anymore. The paradigm has shifted. And for City, the silver lining to Sunday’s defeat at Anfield is that Guardiola is the one who ripped up the record books. Because of him, nine points is not as big a lead as it used to be.
It was, after all, Guardiola’s methods that produced the two-highest points totals in Premier League history, one after another to combine for a 198-point double. The record for the most top-flight wins in English football history was broken in 2017-18 then matched in 2018-19. City scored a record 106 league goals in that first Guardiola title-winning season, then a record 169 in all competitions the following year.
Nobody outside east Manchester knows all this better than Jurgen Klopp and his players. This time last year, no team had needed more than 90 points to be crowned Premier League champions. Liverpool took 97 yet are still waiting to end their 30-year title drought because of Guardiola and City. For that reason more than any other, they will remain wary of what their rivals can do.
Virgil van Dijk was particularly cautious on Sunday night. The centre-half’s rounds of post-match interviews featured the usual clichés and platitudes about how City are a great team, how it is still too early to talk about winning titles and how “so many things can happen between now and May”. And yet, none of them rang hollow. There is a genuine respect for what City are, what they have achieved and how easily they could achieve it all again.
Meanwhile, a City player who was not part of last season’s title win struck a defiant note. When asked if the race was over, Rodri was unequivocal. “Absolutely not,” he said. “This team has shown it many times before. This team has won the Premier League two seasons in a row and that isn’t a coincidence. This team has earned the respect and being considered for the title race.”
A long streak of victories would help City’s cause and Guardiola’s side hold the record for that too, of course, posting 18 wins between August and December 2017. A run of 14 between February and May earlier this year, immediately after an apparently fatal 2-1 defeat at Newcastle, was ultimately what won City the title and pipped Liverpool to the post. There is every chance that could happen again.
The only question is whether City are the same side as in the previous two seasons and, if not, how they fix that. Due to squad limits, there is little hope of adding a centre-half in the January unless he is homegrown or an overseas player is sold. Even then there are issues at full-back and in midfield, where dependable and consistent performers appear hard to come by.
After successfully closing and surmounting a gap of seven points in January last season, why should a gap of nine in November be considered too wide? The title race is alive and the champions remain in it, but they need to reach another record-shattering, paradigm-shifting level in order to retain their crown.