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The importance of Manchester City’s 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge cannot be understated; neither can how dominant a performance Pep Guardiola’s charges put in against the defending champions.
It was the kind of result you can compare to Guardiola’s systematic 6-2 destruction of Real Madrid with Barcelona at the Bernabeu in May 2009, the victory over Chelsea indicated his team has arrived as serious title contenders and they are capable of beating the most talented teams in the Premier League.
Yet despite the impressive nature of this result, City’s fierce local rivals, Manchester United, kept pace with the Blues with only goal difference placing them at the summit of the division.
Glossed over run of form
Whilst Jose Mourinho’s team have played exceptional football and have looked every bit the marked improvement on last season, it would be disingenuous to say they have had a monumentally difficult run of fixtures.
There are no easy matches in the English top flight; the finance present has allowed every single club, no matter their scale, to be hugely competitive on a week-by-week basis. Leicester, Everton and West Ham United are not easy opponents; however they barely laid a glove on the Reds.
Manchester City will be definite title contenders, perhaps even favourites, and whilst it would be a huge gamble to suggest United won’t be, an upcoming difficult run of fixtures will soon test the Old Trafford club’s title credentials.
Tough matches incoming
Between October 14th and November 5th, Mourinho’s charges will face Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in the Premier League.
In Liverpool and Spurs you would be hard pressed to find many better attacking teams in England, barring City of course, Chelsea on the other hand are an incredibly competent team.
The clashes with Liverpool and the defending champions take place at Anfield and Stamford Bridge respectively, two incredibly difficult away matches, ones that United need to win in order to show they can compete with City.
Mourinho’s debut season in Manchester was plagued by an inability to beat the top teams in the league.
He failed to record a victory over Liverpool; he couldn’t mastermind a league win over Manchester City or Arsenal, although United did manage to earn home victories against Spurs and Chelsea.
Whilst the Reds have sizably improved their production against the middle of the road teams in the division, they have to show a considerable improvement against the teams around them.
City’s victory over Chelsea has set the benchmark and it has to be matched. The trip to Merseyside provides the perfect opportunity for United to do just that.
Defensively, Jurgen Klopp’s team are in complete disarray at the moment, United cannot allow this to go unexploited.
Furthermore, it will be interesting to see whether City’s approach at Stamford Bridge will influence the Portuguese coach in any way.
A draw at Anfield will likely see the team lose ground to their city rivals, Mourinho’s traditional approach when facing one of the top teams away from home is to be stable in defence and look to score on the counter-attack is possible.
The mantra of ‘a draw is never a defeat’ is followed to the letter, or at least it has been in recent years.
Must go all out for a win
Manchester United must go and show they are a better team than Liverpool, just as City did with Chelsea.
There hasn’t been a truly memorable and competitive title race in the Premier League for years. Leicester won the title at a canter because their competition so woefully underperformed, although take nothing away from their own performances, they lost just three matches all season, but nobody put them under any pressure.
In the years just before and after that memorable Claudio Ranieri triumph, it has been Chelsea who have eased to the title without really being pushed.
There is the sense that with the two Manchester clubs, the 2017/18 season will finally give the neutral the dramatic, close-run battle for the title that has been promised for so many years.
No space for slip ups
For that to come to fruition though United cannot afford to slip up against teams around them, it would give Guardiola a major advantage.
The upcoming run of fixtures is Manchester United’s first traditional big test; they will have to negotiate matches against teams that on paper have the quality to hurt them.
Defensively, the partnership of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones will be tested for the first time this season, furthermore United will be forced to create chances against much better opposition without Paul Pogba, who continues to be absent through a long-term hamstring issue.
Man City stepped up, time for United to do the same
Manchester City have passed their tests, now it is time for United to do the same.
It will give a truer indication of where Mourinho’s team are in relation to the Blues and if they are successful, then the clashes between the two teams themselves have the potential to be absolute classics.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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