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Title headed for Manchester

It’s early days yet and any plaudit worth his salt will tell you how imprudent it is to be making predictions about winning the league so early in the season but if what I’ve seen from Manchester City and Manchester United so far is anything to go by, then taking a punt so early just doesn’t seem that reckless.

Week five has seen both teams tied at the top of the Premier League table with identical points, goals scored and goals conceded. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City kicked off the season with a routine 2-0 win against a plucky Brighton side that put up some stubborn resistance for 70 odd minutes at the Amex before a horrendous mistake by Dale Stephens allowed Aguero to pounce and dink past Matthew Ryan in goal.

Despite wrapping that game up with another goal, City didn’t quite look a team that would have opposing sides quaking in the tunnel before the first whistle. A rather less enthusing draw with Everton at the Etihad and a lacklustre win against Bournemouth reinforced the perception that Guardiola had assembled an expensive side that was all bark and no bite.

That perception however, began to change when Liverpool came to town. Heralded as the most exciting attacking team in the Premier League, Klopp’s men jabbed and harried for a little over 25 minutes before Aguero, playing on Klavan’s shoulder triggered his dart perfectly to slot away a De Bruyne’s peach of a pass. Things went from bad to worse for the Merseysiders in the 37th minute, after Sadio Mane lost a few studs on Ederson’s mug and was summarily sent to the dressing room for an early shower.

Liverpool imploded, City shifted gears and added four more goals to compound Klopp’s misery. It was the catalyst for a run that saw the Citizens put four past Feyenoord in a Champions League tie and six past Watford at the weekend.

Suddenly, Aguero and Gabriel Jesus’ partnership look reminiscent of a Cole and Yorke combo. The South Americans are firing on all cylinders and there doesn’t seem to be anything to suggest that their current vein of form will fizzle out anytime soon. But even if it does, you just can’t help but feel that others will chip in with goals because this City team is replete with goal scorers across the park.

Manchester United haven’t exactly been consigned to playing second fiddle to their wealthy neighbours. Mourinho seems to have finally built a team that fits his requirements to a tee – a strong, physical and imposing side readymade for the harum scarum of English football.

An opening-day demolition of West Ham set the tone for an impressive run of games, which saw them beat Swansea, Leicester City, Basle and Everton but struggled to break down a resilient Stoke side.

Stealing a march on Chelsea to buy the irrepressible Romalulu Lukaku now looks like an incredibly astute piece of business by Jose Mourinho, but it is the inclusion of Nemanja Matic as a protective shield to the back four that will put United there or thereabouts come end of the season.

The team has played with the kind of freedom that has been lacking since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson and Matic’s display has simply been outstanding.

Despite their stirring displays though, I couldn’t help but feel that there are still chinks in the armour. United at times continue to steer that slippery chicane which swings between sublime and sorry, and a close observer would have noticed passages of play in the games they’ve played this season, where the team seems to lack that extra bit of concentration.

At the Britannia, Stoke City played a high line and put so much pressure on the United defence that they became flustered and lost their composure. Better teams (no disrespect to Stoke City) would have noticed and might want to use that as a blueprint to exploit what is certainly a drawback.

Having said that, there’s no doubt that Mourinho has created a team that is pragmatic, functional and fully equipped to win the Premier League. Whether they eventually do so in May 2018, will depend on how Manchester City fares. What is certain however, is that the title will be headed for the city of Manchester.

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