Manchester City

Stealthy City must bring the noise at Anfield

 • by Mark Thompson
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Last season was all about the noisy neighbours of Manchester; who, to great fanfare, tormented opposition sides on their way to the Premier League title.

This term, though, perhaps due to the deafening calamity across the city, nobody has particularly paid much attetion Pep Guardiola’s side, who have quietly moved to the top of the table with minimal fuss.

City drew their third game of the campaign against Wolverhampton Wanderers, which meant they fell behind Chelsea and Liverpool, who both began the season with five consecutive wins in the top flight.

But now, just seven matches in, City are back on top and they have collected the same amount of points as they had at this stage last season.

Have the Centurions got even better?

The points might be the same but Guardiola’s side’s underlying numbers are even stronger.

On the defensive side, City have conceded a similar amount of xG – a way of measuring the quality of chances that a team or player gets based on their shots – as last season.

But in attack, which is ultimately what City pride themselves on, they’ve cranked it up a notch.

Manchester City - after seven games

2017/182018/19
Expected goals14.6921.35
Expected goals conceded3.703.83

City’s results in the opening weeks of the 2017/18 campaign were boosted by hot finishing, meaning that after seven games they’d scored nearly six more goals than expected according to the xG.

That’s not the case this time around. The Premier League champions are as good as they appear.

Quirks of the calendar

However, how good do they appear?

City were far from their during their three opening games of last season, but then hit their stride between matches four and seven. These were pure narrative builders

A 5-0 rollover of ten-man Liverpool was the first of a trio of games in which City, amazingly, scored a combined 16 goals. To cap these off they then travelled to Stamford Bridge and beat Chelsea 1-0.

This season City’s story was lost behind Liverpool and Chelsea’s, but they’ve also had a kind run of fixtures.

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This run has been so kind, in fact, their seven previous opponents average just 10.73 shots per game, put together. If you put this hypothetical team into the shooting charts, they’d only be 16th.

So the biggest obstacle Guardiola has had to overcome in the league this season isn’t any opposition side, it was probably Kevin de Bruyne’s injury.

A true test for the champions

This is partly why this weekend’s game at Anfield is so big.

City have been rolling over most in their path, which is all you can ask of them. But until they face truly competitive opposition in the Premier League, it’s still difficult to gauge where they stand amongst their rivals.

By contrast, Liverpool have come through several major tests already – notably their victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley and going toe-to-toe with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last weekend.

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And for City this isn’t just the first test, it’s the first of many coming one after another.

From the end of October, they face Spurs and Manchester United within 14 days, with three other games packed in between: Fulham in the Carabao Cup; Southampton in the Premier League; and Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.

The match at Anfield won’t just be any regular test either. After losing their previous three games against Liverpool, the Reds and Jürgen Klopp hold something of a spell over Guardiola.

His words about them in Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing series might be the one of the few things the Catalan regrets being caught on camera saying.

“They scare me,” he said, referring to Liverpool’s attacking threat. “They’re dangerous, I mean it.”

This won’t just be a game between two title rivals; it will be the next chapter in one of the most intriguing managerial battles in football, and it will set the tone for months to come. It will also show the rest of the Premier League just how good City really are.

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