Dubai: We may only be five games into the new 2021/22 English Premier League season and so it is far too early to talk about title-deciding games. However, you get the feeling that the winner of the clash between Chelsea and Man City on Saturday could be celebrating at the end of the season.
The Blues, with their newly acquired hot-shot Romelu Lukaku, have been the early pace setters winning four games, drawing one and only conceding one goal. In comparison, City have had a mixed start as they started the campaign with a defeat at Tottenham before following that up with three wins then being held to a 0-0 draw last time out against Southampton.
It hasn’t been great but don’t forget, City won only 5 of their first 12 games last season but then hit form at the right time to secure the title. It feels like it will be a similar story this time around but what’s for certain is that Pep Guardiola has met his match in Thomas Tuchel.
The German has transformed the Londoners since taking over from Frank Lampard in January and has beaten City three times. First came a 1-0 win in the FA Cup semifinal, then a 2-1 win in the league before the most significant of them all, a 1-0 win in the Champions League final. Many blamed Guardiola for fielding such an attacking lineup without a holding midfielder. The City coach didn’t just want to beat Chelsea, he wanted thrash them - but his decision backfired spectacularly as Tuchel spotted the flaws in the team and took full advantage.
That said, you can never write off any team coached by Guardiola, he has proven himself at the top level across all of the major European leagues. City failed to secure the signing of a striker during the transfer window and were poor against Spurs, the Saints and against RB Leipzig in the group game of the Champions League but they are still the champions and we’ll see them play like champions soon enough. However, their inability to tempt Harry Kane from Tottenham will be further exposed if Lukaku finds the back of the net.
Chelsea may be the better-placed of the two right now - they are unbeaten this season, boast one of the strongest defences in Europe and even though he has settled well there is still much more to come from Lukaku. There’s no question that the Belgian makes them stronger and it isn’t a surprise that confidence is high at Stamford Bridge.
I have a feeling we could be seeing a fourth consecutive win for Tuchel which would really cement Chelsea’s superiority over City. He would also become the first manager to ever beat Guardiola in four consecutive games but we are just in September and remember, the title race has always been a marathon, not a sprint. So even if Pep finds himself six points adrift of the Blues, he has the nous to claw his way back into contention. They were eight points off the pace after eight games last year and stormed back in fine style. Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden both started in the 6-1 Carabao Cup win over Wycombe in midweek and if they are involved against Chelsea they will make a huge difference to the team.
It will be fascinating to see what Guardiola has got up his sleeve this time around as he seeks to get the better of Tuchel who, truth be told, has done little wrong since arriving in England...