Neil Humphreys: Man City's rivals must step up now
Forget title, the permanent balance of EPL power is at stake
Apologies to Liverpool supporters, but the Reds' 3-3 with Brentford was real, old school farce.
With six goals, fluffed chances and some seriously rubbish defending in that game yesterday morning (Singapore time), it was terrific fun. It was the very best of the English Premier League.
One of the EPL's urban myths is that its unrivalled popularity is due to weekly master classes in sporting excellence, a kind of physical, ethereal perfection.
It really isn't (as the universal rejection of the elitist European Super League demonstrated). One-sided exhibitions are fun, sure, but not every week.
What we really want is the unpredictable human element, the weekly serialisations of a baffling game. Who doesn't love a good soap opera?
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United all delivered, gloriously, in this regard.
The Reds made the common mistake of confusing a promoted team for a gaggle of under-11s, rather than a well-drilled, entertaining side of over-achievers.
Brentford's 3-5-2 morphed into a 3-3-4 far too often for Liverpool's liking, turning Reds' defenders into wide-eyed actors auditioning for Disney on Ice.
It wasn't for the purists, but the plot-twists made for one of the most engrossing games of the season so far.
As always, though, there was a nagging sense of doom behind the melodrama. Manchester City would not have drawn that game.
Meanwhile, the other half of Manchester were contributing their bit to the world's greatest pantomime by producing the worst penalty since Chris Waddle turned to his England team-mates and said: "Leave it to me, lads, I've got this."
Bruno Fernandes' ball was last seen passing the latest billionaire's ego-trip in space, overtaking satellites to remind us all that the real star was standing behind him, hands on hips, playing for the camera.
Of course Cristiano Ronaldo would've tucked away a last-minute penalty for Manchester United. Or maybe he wouldn't. Who really cares? The point is, the spluttering Red Devils contributed to the intoxicating uncertainty.
Once again, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confused his opponents for Brazil, circa 1970, which is the highest compliment a nonplussed Dean Smith will ever receive.
For our entertainment, United's manager continues to ask himself, "Why play one holding midfielder when you can play two and castrate your own attack"?
It was a treat to watch. Those last five minutes at Old Trafford offered more surrealist action than anything the new 007 movie will deliver.
And still, there was that nagging sense of doom. Man City would not have needed a last-minute penalty to salvage something against Villa.
In fact, City were beating the other major contender for the title - with a worrying lack of difficulty.
For once, Thomas Tuchel's tactical thinking was over-thought.
Chelsea were too defensive, respectful and timid against the league champions.
Tuchel tried to correct it in the second half, bringing on Kai Havertz and then Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but it was too late.
And the nagging sense of doom returned. City wouldn't play so cautiously.
They didn't. In the final minutes, they brought on Riyad Mahrez, Fernandinho and Raheem Sterling. No other club in England could call upon such resources.
The only other club in Europe will meet City on Wednesday morning in the Champions League, offering an unwanted glimpse of an unwanted future, two state-funded outfits dividing the spoils between them.
Paris Saint-Germain and City are doing all they can to remove the human uncertainty from a narrative that truly captivates when we don't know the ending.
United, Liverpool and Chelsea reminded us why the EPL remains the most engaging league. A rampant City will show why it isn't, if they wander off with the title again.
This time around, there is so much more at stake than just the jug-eared pot. This season will either be the most competitive campaign in years or the confirmation of an autocracy.
To reiterate, City took the lead against their major title rivals with Sterling, Mahrez, Fernandinho, John Stones and Ferran Torres still on the bench. Their man-of-the-match, Jack Grealish, cost £100 million (S$185m).
This isn't regular heavyweights asserting traditional power, but something else entirely.
United, Liverpool and Chelsea all played their part in reminding us that the EPL's unpredictability remains its finest asset. And yet, conversely, if they don't get their respective houses in order quickly, Guardiola's autocrats are going to run away with the title again.
And honestly, where's the fun in that?