Despite the craziness of this 2020/21 season, some clubs still mustered will to swim against the tide of the catastrophe called COVID-19.
In Spain, while the usual gladiators in Barcelona and Real Madrid continue to struggle, Athletico Madrid seem to be running away with it. In Italy, serial champions, Juventus are struggling to catch up with the leading pack of Inter, AC Milan and Roma.
Bayern Munich are still top of the log in Germany with RB Liepzig piling up pressure on their heels. Not so in France, where eternal favourites, PSG are trailing Lille, even if just by a point.
But there’s no top league in Europe where football has gone as crazy as it has in England this season. Bookmakers must have all found other vocations as the unpredictability of the beautiful game in the acclaimed most competitive league in the world has done everything to live up to that billing.
Who would have believed that Manchester United would lose by 1-6 to Tottenham Hotspurs right there at Old Trafford in week 4? But it wasn’t all about Jose Mourinho’s magic. His perennial rival, Pep Guardiola equally got slaughtered 5 – 2 not far away at the Etihad 24 hours later by Leicester City, with a certain Jamie Vardy grabbing a hat trick.
It’s not the end of it yet. Defending champions, Liverpool got hammered 7 -2 by Aston Villa of all teams. What was even astonishing in this disgrace is that it really could have been more!
The unpredictability wasn’t just about cricket scores. Everybody was beating anybody at any turf. Leeds United were scoring goals in baskets one week and conceding in equal measure the next.
Arsenal would beat Man Utd at Old Trafford this week and lose so embarrassingly to Burnley at The Emirates the next. And talking of Man Utd, the Red Devils have turned the Theatre of Dreams into Theatre of Disasters. So so infuriating to their fans that even when they were topping the table, they lost 1 – 2 at Old Trafford to a Sheffield United team that was winning their first game in 18!
At Chelsea, it’s a sorry tale. Frank Lampard has already paid the price of the inconsistency and unpredictability of the nutty season. Having spent over £200 million on transfers, the Chelsea legend fell to the characteristic impatience of Roman Abramovich. The Russian billionaire didn’t open his treasure vault to be watching Arsenal youngsters disgrace Lampard’s array of very expensive army. Tomas Tuchel took over and fortunes seems to have changed for the better.
However, one team but one team, took the early turbulence on the chin and calmly steadied ship. Manchester City.
Before week 12, as many as seven different clubs had topped the league at one point or the other. Man City went as low as 12th position before they started climbing. But not before Mourinho led his Tottenham to a smash-and-grab 2 – 0 victory at the new White Hart Lane. From that moment, Guardiola turned things around.
His squad had been ravaged by injuries and Coronavirus positive tests. His two recognised strikes in Kun Aguero and Gabriel Jesus were not available almost all the time. But after that initial set back, the Spanish tactician brought the qualities that make him the best in the world to bear. Midfielders and wingers were converted to strikers. But first, he had to solidify his defence. Reuben Dias, a summer signing from Portuguese Benfica fitted like the glove. John Stones that was on the verge of leaving the club suddenly found his range. The duo formed instant formidability that the highly rated Aymeric Laporte was not missed while the French import battled with injury.
Kevin De Bryune, Ikay Gundogan, Phil Foden all became a terrific support caste from midfield, creating and scoring goals in bucket loads. Upfront, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Bernanrdo Silva alternated roles to a ruthless efficiency.
It’s a tactical delight, out-passing, out-possessing and outscoring opponents while keeping the rear guard as tight as a rabbit’s arsehole in 12 straight matches. Along that incredible winning streak, rivals Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea were easily brushed aside in emphatic fashion. The turf didn’t matter. Home or away, the Citizens exhibited pure class.
Without change in playing squad, Guardiola introduced a system to fit the pandemic moments. With 10 points advantage over Manchester United in second place, it will take a football miracle for any of the chasing pack to upstage the Guardiola express to the finish line with just 14 matches to go.
Whoever that had not recognised it by now should better wake up to the reality of crowning Man City as champions-elect. With their record top scorer Aguero finally fit, don’t bet against them becoming champions as early as week 33. They’re just that ruthless. And if they keep up with current form, the EPL title won’t be their only conquest.