EPL title race needs angry Chelsea
MANCHESTER City are getting worse. Fact.
This time last season Pep Guardiola's relentless sky blue machine had 43 points and had scored 46 goals. Now check the current Premier League table … 41 points and 45 goals.
That it has come to this, twisting the figures to find some imaginary decline, like some belligerent climate change denier.
The truth is City are just getting hotter. They have already faced all but one of the genuine chasing pack, and have come out on top - except for the scoreless draw against Liverpool at Anfield.
The only team left is Chelsea, who host the champions at Stamford Bridge deathly early on Sunday morning Australian time.
A month ago, this fixture might have held hope of providing some kind of obstacle for City, such was the goodwill and excitement created by Mauricio Sarri's high pressing side. It doesn't seem that long ago the Blues were rocking Arsenal and knocking Liverpool out of the league cup.
In early November, David Luiz looked like a defensive rock, Alvaro Morata was scoring regularly and Eden Hazard was like a footballing wizard, with wands for legs. And all of this was structured around Jorginho in the middle, capturing and relaying the ball short and long, the filter through which Sarri's vision was constructed on the pitch.
The Italian midfielder is Sarri's only victory over Guardiola, after the Chelsea boss snatched the 26-year-old out of City's hands before the start of the season. He seems such a Guardiola player it is surprising he never made it to Manchester.
It was an inspired move that sparked Chelsea's season, yet that strength has not become the target.
For all of Jorginho's capacity to conduct the team, he can be harried and harassed out of his comfort zone. Everton did it with Richarlison, usually a lone forward, to earn a surprise scoreless draw at Stamford Bridge.
Then Tottenham did it with Dele Alli at Wembley in late November, the England man staying frustratingly close to deny Jorginho any time or space. And it worked brilliantly, as Spurs ran out 3-1 winners at Wembley.
Suddenly, Chelsea looked - and felt - vulnerable. This week's defeat to Wolverhampton merely reiterated those weaknesses, with Jorginho isolated and lacking the aggression to stand up to high-energy opponents.
Which is obviously just the moment you would want to face Manchester City, right? I think the correct answer is to put both hands in your hair and shout "Aaarggh!"
Unbeaten all season, the only points City have dropped are in the draws against Liverpool and Wolves - illustrating perhaps the one weakness, if you could even call it that.
Both these draws came away from home, and City's scoring record on the road is half of their haul at the Etihad. That said, Guardiola's team have only conceded two goals away from home all season as well, so again, it is not exactly a weakness.
Perhaps we can find something in City's only loss this season, the surprise home defeat to Lyon in the Champions League. But the only thing missing there was Guardiola himself, forced to watch from the stands after being suspended by UEFA. Without the maestro there to conduct them, his team looked somewhat rudderless.
But since then, City have obliterated almost everything in the path. They will go to Stamford Bridge with the utmost confidence and a well-rested first choice XI, after the - ahem - "second string" dealt with Watford midweek.
The Premier League could do with a shock right now. The headlines suggest Liverpool are keeping pressure on City, but it is the other way around. City are setting such a relentless, unforgiving pace that those clubs chasing them cannot afford a single slip lest they canter out of sight. It isn't a procession but they manner in which they are dispatching every opponent is awe-inspiring. And it's not just the results, it's how they're doing it.
So, if recent results offer little confidence, perhaps this weekend's clash comes down to what Mauricio Sarri can inspire his Chelsea to achieve.
Can the Blues conjure some of their former magic, summon that old aggression? Believe it or not, the Bridge used to be one of English football's most hostile venues. It might take that to keep City in check.