It’s Manchester City’s title to lose now: Neil Humphreys
Slowing rivals like Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea won't catch Guardiola's men in this form
The title race is turning into the Tortoise and the Hare.
Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Leicester City have all taken turns as floppy-eared speedsters, but the hares today may be gone tomorrow.
The sly, hairless tortoise looks destined to swagger across the line first.
Pep Guardiola will continue to say otherwise, but the Manchester City manager knows the title is there for the taking.
Yes, there's still a long way to go. Manchester United may even be top again when you read this sentence.
But the form guide and common sense suggest that the Red Devils must sustain their remarkable form, despite an underlying caution in their tactics, for the rest of the season to stay on top. It's a long shot.
City, on the other hand, can probably take it from here on autopilot. It's not so much that they've done it all before, but rather they've got it all on the bench.
Their comfortable 5-0 thrashing of West Bromwich Albion yesterday morning (Singapore time) was achieved without a conventional No. 9. No other title rival could do that.
Imagine what Spurs without Harry Kane or Leicester without Jamie Vardy might look like.
In a way, we can. Glance over at Chelsea's struggles up front.
Frank Lampard lost his job trying to fill his striking vacancy, switching between Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud to stop confidence haemorrhaging through the brittle duo of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz.
Liverpool retain their nominal striker, but in name only. Roberto Firmino is present, but hasn't been correct for a while now. The Reds' jaded forward line has suffered from a toiling Brazilian and AWOL midfielders covering in defence.
Tottenham are underachieving with a conservative manager. Leicester are arguably overachieving with an outstanding manager. Arsenal are somewhere between the two, spending much of the season behaving like a jittery gambler, unsure whether to stick or twist.
A weird season played inside eerily empty stadiums and beneath the pandemic's infernal cloud was always going to be an exercise in inconsistency, a temporary reality that City's rivals may look back on with real regrets.
Romantics remember 2016 as Leicester's eternal Cinderella story. Arsenal fans remember 2016 as the lost opportunity. They were the forgotten runners-up, missing their greatest chance to win the title since Arsene Wenger's heyday.
So many clubs could end up with that same sinking feeling this time around.
Leicester, Chelsea, Spurs, United and Liverpool are all acutely aware that this title will be secured with the lowest points tally in years. Monopolistic practices are no longer in place. It's a free-for-all.
And yet, unexpectedly, there's the sobering prospect of the old empire striking back.
No one else can rival City's current form. Their machine-like addiction to industrial artistry has returned. The 5-0 win at the Hawthorns was their 11th in a row in all competitions (for the first time since 2017).
No one can currently rival Guardiola's ability to improve players and persevere with unstable talents until they flourish.
Ilkay Guendogan was Guardiola's first signing at City, but polarised the fan base until recently. Now, he's irreplaceable.
The German ruled the left side against West Brom in an advanced role, scoring twice and linking with Phil Foden, another key beneficiary of Guardiola's tuition.
On the right side, Joao Cancelo has switched from Kyle Walker's understudy to a quick-thinking quarterback so quickly it feels like a trick of the eye, a kind of coaching magic.
There are even disappearing acts that no one notices. Do you remember Kevin de Bruyne, the Belgian wizard, threads like a seamstress and shoots like a cannon? No one did against West Brom.
Guendogan, Foden and even Riyad Mahrez are overcompensating for the absences of both de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero. Slowly, but most definitely surely, the tortoises are taking charge.
Guardiola's men, superior in pretty much every department, are threatening to walk off with this thing.
In time, their rivals may be left to rue the one that got away.