Barclays EPL Title Race - The Battle of Manchester

Barclays EPL Title Race – The Battle of Manchester

Both Manchester clubs have emerged as title favourites in the early stages of the Barclays EPL campaign.

Manchester United and Manchester City have been in formidable form since the Premier League restarted in August. Mourinho guided the red devils to three consecutive wins, until they disappointingly dropped points against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. Manchester United immediately returned to winning ways with their third 4-0 win of the season against Everton on Sunday.

Manchester City have grown stronger as the season has progressed and have scored eleven goals in their previous two wins. They shocked the nation by inflicting a demoralizing 5-0 defeat on Liverpool and followed their promising victory up with another comprehensive 6-0 win against Watford at Vicarage Road yesterday.

This victory sent the sky blues to the top of the Barclays EPL table by three points, although Manchester United went level on points with Sunday’s win over Everton.

Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku are likely to play a key role in this season’s inevitably dramatic title race. It’ll go right down to the wire and both clubs will be highly reliant on their main goal scorers.

Romelu Lukaku was originally the leading goal scorer in the Premier League with four goals, until Sergio Aguero netted a hat-trick against Watford yesterday. Another impressive and effective player is Brazilian starlet Gabriel Jesus, who is also level on goals with Manchester United’s Lukaku.

Guardiola endured a very taunting debut season in England but finally seems to be getting to grips with the demands of the Premier League. Manchester City looked tactically and technically inept last season but have been transformed into the type of team that Guardiola has enjoyed success with at previous clubs FC Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona.

Mourinho has also taken time to rebuild a deteriorating squad at the Theatre of Dreams. Previously accustomed to success, Manchester United’s standards have plummeted majorly since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.

Manchester United clinched their first piece of major silverware in Louis Van Gaal’s second and final season at Old Trafford. However, supporters were unpleased by his progress and the club subsequently replaced the Dutchman with former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

The Portuguese tactical mastermind guided Chelsea to three Barclays EPL titles during two separate spells at Stamford Bridge. He’d also previously enjoyed success with FC Porto, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

Surely only the likes of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola could fill the boots of a leader as reputable and respected as Sir Alex Ferguson? Despite their previous glory, both managers have taken time to adapt to their new challenges but they are set to embark upon a season which will be unaccepting of failure.

Can Guardiola Transform Manchester City into Worldwide Powerhouse?

When multi-billionaire Sheikh Mansour bought the club for £210 million in 2008; Manchester City were always going to strive for greatness. In 2012, Sergio Aguero’s famous late strike against Queens Park Rangers on the final day of the season clinched their first ever Premier League title.

This was only the beginning of a project which will only be completed once Manchester City achieve worldwide success. UEFA Champions League success has eluded them in recent years, despite their remarkable success at domestic level.

Barclays EPL Title Race - Battle of Manchester

Roberto Mancini was unable to deliver European success, forcing the Emirati to appoint former Real Madrid manager Manuel Pellegrini in 2013. The Chilean consistently secured UEFA Champions League qualification with Villarreal between 2004 and 2009, which attracted La Liga giants Real Madrid.

Unfortunately, Pellegrini lasted only one season in the caldron of the Santiago Bernabeu. He was responsible for luring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso and Kaka to Madrid in the 2009 summer transfer window.

Surprisingly, despite having 96 points, Real Madrid finished runners-up behind Guardiola’s high-flying FC Barcelona, who accumulated 99 points. Jose Mourinho subsequently replaced him and Pellegrini’s rising reputation took a detrimental hit following a season without silverware.

After three years with Malaga, Mansour elected Pellegrini as the strongest candidate to guide Manchester City to the next level in his long-term project. Another Premier League title followed during the Chilean’s reign at the Etihad Stadium but Mansour remained unsatisfied.

Pellegrini was prematurely relieved of his duties before the end of the 2015/16 Barclays EPL campaign. It effectively ended their title ambitions, due to the psychological impact the news of his departure at the end of the season had on the entire team.

Guardiola, who enjoyed trophy-lauded spells with FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Munich, was the man likeliest to guide Manchester City to European success. However, in fact, Manchester City’s form in Europe declined under Guardiola in the 2016/17 campaign.

Manchester City reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League in Pellegrini’s final season at the Etihad Stadium. In the following season, they were abruptly eliminated by eventual semi-finalists AS Monaco in the Round of 16. They were very disappointing both on the domestic and European stage but Guardiola’s squad have improved remarkably over the summer.

Importantly, the club invested heavily on their leaky defence with the signings of full-backs Danilo from Real Madrid, Kyle Walker from Tottenham Hotspur and Benjamin Mendy from AS Monaco costing them approximately £120.8 million.

Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson also arrived at the Etihad, becoming the most expensive goalkeeper in the world in the process. His transfer fee of £34.9 million eclipsed a transfer record held by Gianluigi Buffon for 17 years.

The 24-year-old has the goalkeeping style to perfectly fit into Guardiola’s possession-based style of play. He’s a sweeper keeper, who is extravagant but highly talented in possession and is also a pivotal shot stopper.

Claudio Bravo arrived from FC Barcelona in the previous summer but endured a torrid debut season. He was consistently criticised for his laughable mistakes, which generally consisted of the Chilean complacently giving possession away and costing his side points.

Guardiola also released deadwood players such as Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando, Samir Nasri, Aleksandar Kolarov, Nolito, Jesus Navas, Willy Caballero and Wilfried Bony.

Every player knew they were under trial in Guardiola’s opening season, which explains the influx of departures. He’s attempting to build an empire and anyone unnecessarily clogging up the squad list is strictly unwelcome in the Spaniard’s club.

Regardless of whether they set-up with a back-three or back-four, they’re clearly more defensively solidified. The fitness of club captain Vincent Kompany could be decisive in Manchester City’s title pursuit.

The Belgian is evidently a key figure, both mentally and physically for Manchester City’s fellow defenders. His experience along with his brusque, passionate and no-nonsense style of defending will inevitably play a key role in grinding out important results.

He’s the main leader in the camp but Kevin De Bruyne is also making an unfamiliar transition in central midfield. The former Chelsea midfielder has slotted into a deeper role, originally played by former greats Xavi and Philipp Lahm in Guardiola’s former teams.

The Belgian attack-minded midfielder has adapted to this role comfortably and is the fire starter in the third layer of Manchester City’s dangerous attack. I say third layer because we all know that Guardiola’s first line of attack is via his goalkeeper.

Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus’ mouth-watering partnership is another impressive aspect of Guardiola’s new-look team. The South American duo have scored nine Premier League goals combined this season but it could’ve been a completely different story.

When Gabriel Jesus exploded onto the scene in January, rumours began to circulate around the press regarding the future of Sergio Aguero. Many feared Jesus was a long-term replacement for their beloved goal machine and the press jumped on the bandwagon to create rumours from thin air.

Fortunately, rumours of his discontent were soon dashed and Guardiola could plan to accommodate two extremely talented players into his attack. Add the acceleration, skill and speed of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva and you nearly have a complete team.

Barclays EPL Title Race - The Battle of Manchester

However, there is one more incredibly important member who is the final piece of the jigsaw. It comes in the shape of David Silva, who continues to improve despite progressing into his thirties. The Spaniard is truly magical and is the engine and producer in Manchester City’s midfield. His quick feet, slick movements and watchful eye for any type of attacking movement is the part in the team which keeps the clock ticking.

So, to conclude this piece of the report; can Manchester City win the Barclays EPL and even strive further to achieve European success? It’s early days but they definitely look the most impressive prospect in England. It’ll go right down to the wire but it’ll be difficult to bet against Manchester City.

In terms of European success, I don’t think they’ll achieve this goal in the current season. However, if they allow Guardiola to continue to build, I’m sure the Spaniard will eventually provide Mansour with the golden prize in the near future.

Is “The Special One” Back to His Best?

Jose Mourinho’s glistening reputation was temporarily tarnished when he was sacked by Chelsea in December 2015. The Portuguese leader clinched his third Premier League title in 2014 but failed to prevent Chelsea’s plummet down the rankings in the following season.

Everything fell apart at Chelsea and a series of events exacerbated his situation at Stamford Bridge. In June 2016, Mourinho returned to management and took on another challenge with Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Barclays EPL Title Race - The Battle of Manchester

Manchester United had previously struggled to replicate their consistent winning form under Sir Alex Ferguson since his retirement in 2013. David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal crumbled under the scrutinizing pressure, which led to the appointment of one of the greatest managers of his era.

Jose Mourinho began to revamp Manchester United’s squad by offloading Victor Valdes and various declining academy graduates. In 2017, Mourinho continued to chop players from his squad by selling Morgan Schneiderlin to Everton, Memphis Depay to Lyon and Bastian Schweinsteiger to Chicago Fire.

Overall, Manchester United made four signings during Mourinho’s debut campaign. Paul Pogba signed for a world record fee of £89 million and the prolific goal scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic also arrived at Old Trafford.

Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan joined from German Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund and highly promising Ivorian defender Eric Bailly left Villarreal for Manchester.

He was gradually assembling his new team but the 2016/17 campaign was simply a transitional term. Despite this, Mourinho still typically secured silverware with their EFL Cup and UEFA Europa League triumphs.

The problem was Manchester United’s ineptitude in the final third, which cost them a mass amount of points during Mourinho’s debut campaign. The red devils drew 15 Barclays EPL games last season and only finished as the eighth-highest goal scorers in England’s top flight.

They did boast the second-best defensive record in the Barclays EPL but this was largely due to Mourinho’s defensive system, which was highly criticised during last season. By May, supporters were satisfied with Mourinho, who’d ultimately redelivered UEFA Champions League qualification by beating Ajax in the UEFA Europa League final in Stockholm.

Manchester United fans will be less sympathetic if they slump to another sixth place finish under Mourinho this season. Fortunately, they exploded into form with three consecutive victories against West Ham United, Swansea City and Leicester City, in which they scored 10 goals.

Stoke City salvaged a draw against Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium to reduce the deficit between United and City. Although we’re only on Match Day 5, it’s clear that things look much more promising at the Theatre of Dreams this term.

Jose Mourinho pulled off a transfer masterstroke with the signing of Nemanja Matic from former club Chelsea. The Serbian midfielder has been an essential member in the midfield from the evidence in their opening four matches. His simplistic and defensive approach provides a barrier in front of the defence and behind their midfield.

Matic simply “fills the hole” and “does the dirty work” to provide balance and enhance the team’s ability to defend efficiently and trigger attacks effectively. The signing of Romelu Lukaku also raised a few eyebrows in July, largely due to the price tag of £75 million.

Fortunately, the Belgian international has delivered in the early stages of his Manchester United career with four Barclays EPL goals and six goals in six appearances in all competitions. The biggest challenge for Lukaku will be to transmit his goal scoring form into the bigger clashes.

Manchester United are playing a more attractive and attacking brand of football in the 2017/18 campaign. Antonio Valencia and Daley Blind provide an attacking option at full-back and Phil Jones and Eric Bailly have formed a formidable partnership at central defence to create continuity.

Nemanja Matic is the final piece of the jigsaw, due to his central defensive midfield role. The former Chelsea midfielder breaks up play and allows the likes of Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford to portray more attacking roles.

Romelu Lukaku is essentially the target man for Manchester United. They’re attacking with more verve and have looked unstoppable at times, especially against West Ham United and Swansea City.

Decision Time: Who’ll Win The BARCLAYS EPL Title

Barclays EPL Title Race - The Battle of Manchester

Manchester United look very strong, especially in the final third but they’ve hardly been tested in the opening five games of the season. Manchester City have broken down Liverpool’s prolific attack and completely slaughtered them, which suggests they boast extreme quality in all departments.

However, if Sergio Aguero, David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne suffer injuries, it could be a completely different story. Manchester United, on the other hand, have very good depth and can easily replace almost any member of the starting line-up with another adequate option from the bench.

However, let’s also not discount Chelsea, they did win the Barclays EPL title last season. They were foolish to sell Nemanja Matic and Alvaro Morata has looked unconvincing at times. They suffered an opening day defeat against Burnley at Stamford Bridge but recorded back-to-back away wins against Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City. The blues climb was halted by Arsenal in a drab 0-0 draw on Sunday but there’s still plenty of games to be contested before a winner is decided.

It’s difficult to decide. Manchester City have the stronger starting line-up, whereas Manchester United have stronger squad depth. For me, I have to favour with Manchester United, as they’re more likely to last the distance.


George Bennett

<p>My name is George Bennett, I’m 19-years-old and I’m the founder and administrator for GB Articles Football Blog. I’ve been writing from the age of 12-years-old and decided to create my own blog to spread my passion for the beautiful game.</p>
<p>The blog was created in May 2016 and I’ve began to assemble a talented group of writers since April 2017. I mainly cover the Premier League, although I also base some reports on the Italian Serie A, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga and more!</p>

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2 Comments on "Barclays EPL Title Race – The Battle of Manchester"

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Don’t think United have it in them, especially with Pogba injured

Dan Briard

Maybe delusional but I have a feeling both Manchester teams might bottle it, I say Chelsea for the title…