Liverpool probably have their best team in 30 years. They reached the Champions League final last term and have showed progress every year since Jurgen Klopp arrived. In the past 12 months they have paid the biggest three transfer fees in their history to fix their glaring weaknesses.
Last season’s fizzing attack has been bolstered by a near-watertight defence. They have a strong first team with a pleasing mixture of high-profile signings and young talent, and squad depth. They have done everything right in order to launch a significant challenge for the Premier League title.
But they’re probably still going to lose it by 10 points. Maybe more.
Their problem is Manchester City. Under Pep Guardiola, they have become a phenomenon of a football team, a merciless winning machine who aren’t so much streets ahead but entire motorways clear of the competition. Manchester City are a problem for Liverpool — but are they also a problem for the Premier League?
Not only could City win this year’s title at a stroll, but there’s a strong chance they’ll completely dominate the division for years to come. They have a set of superb, broadly young players, a manager regarded as this generation’s great coaching genius, a behind-the-scenes structure to rival any in the world, a decision-making team that have barely made a wrong call in the past couple of years, virtually limitless cash, and as we’ve been reminded recently, a willingness to push UEFA rules of governance to their breaking point.
Of course, at the time of writing City, are only two points ahead of Liverpool and haven’t beaten Klopp’s side in their past four encounters. But their goal difference is greater than every other team’s goals for column, they’ve already scored five or more in a league game on four occasions this season, and both a simple eye test and metrics such as expected goals suggest their results are reflective of their dominant performances.
Would it be a huge surprise if City won the next three Premier League titles? Four? Five? Are they going to turn the richest league in the world, the division that sells itself as the place where anyone can beat anyone, into a procession?
It’s possible things could go wrong, but the scariest thing about City is there seems to be so few areas where that could happen. Their present is strong, and everything is arranged so their future remains so, too.
Ultimately, for the neutral, it’s boring. It’s boring whenever one team is totally dominant. It was boring when Manchester United won eight of the first 11 Premier League titles, it’s boring Juventus have won the past seven in Serie A, it’s boring that PSG have a stranglehold in France. The excitement in Germany about Bayern Munich’s poor start to this season tells you just how boring it is that they’ve won the past six Bundesliga titles.
The tedium that creeps whenever one of Barcelona or Real Madrid look like they’re going to establish their latest dynasty in Spain is at least tempered by the knowledge that a) the two clubs are so volatile anything could happen to ruin it, b) the other is always there to keep them honest and c) there’s Atletico Madrid to nip at, and occasionally take bites out of their heels.
And this is the balance. On one hand complete dominance is boring, but on the other true parity is often a sign of mediocrity across a league. It’s really about being somewhere in between.
We can of course simply marvel at the incredible football played by City, and they do play incredible football. This is a collection of fine talents that have become an irresistible whole under Guardiola, closer to a single shifting organism than 11 individuals. They are an aesthetic joy.
But if we only concentrate on that, then we’re not really watching sport anymore. Sport relies on competition, but if City are too good for the competition, we’re just watching exhibition football. You might as well cancel your TV subscriptions and fire up YouTube to watch those people do absurd tricks in cool urban locations, for all the competitive drama the Premier League could bring.
A significant period of supremacy for City could also hasten the arrival of the much-mooted European Super League. If they are no longer challenged by the Premier League, they will surely seek greater stimulation — financial or competitive — elsewhere, take a couple of others with them and there goes the English top flight as we know it.
Manchester City are a majestic football team. They can play football the like of which we’ve rarely seen. They have the potential to be the Premier League’s dominant side for years to come. If they do, it’s great for them. But ultimately it’s bad for the rest of us.