Manchester City are the form team in the Premier League after racking up their fifth consecutive win.
And if their 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace was the continuation of their strong rhythm, it also showed a new quality. City found their shooting boots in the Carabao Cup win over Arsenal before Christmas and have scored 19 goals in their last seven games, but they have long struggled for control in the Premier League.
Pep Guardiola warned at the beginning of the campaign that their lack of pre-season would make it more difficult to dominate opponents for long periods as they had in their previous seasons, and that has played out over subsequent months. The Liverpool match was a prime example as both teams threw everything they had at each other in the opening 45 minutes before everything fizzled out.
Almost without exception before the Crystal Palace game, City’s general approach involved scoring goals in the first half of matches to take control before the inevitable tiring came after the break. Just six of their 24 goals had come in the second half of matches, or 25 per cent; for context, in previous campaigns under Guardiola they managed 55 per cent, 61 per cent, 48 per cent, and 53 per cent respectively.
Phil Foden’s equaliser at West Ham is the only second-half goal this season to have influenced any points, but Ferran Torres’s effort against Newcastle on Boxing Day made the game safe and three unanswered goals against Roy Hodgson’s travellers ensured another three points in a way that failing to do so days earlier against Brighton had threatened the victory.
Guardiola should be as pleased as their opponents should be concerned if City are to extend the time they are able to influence the game and score goals in. It was a slow start to the campaign for the side that is used to being top scorers but there have been abundant signs of them moving through the gears and their second-half performance against Palace was one of the most emphatic of the campaign.
Manchester City shrugged off the difficulties caused by a Covid-19 outbreak to sweep aside Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
First-half goals from Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne effectively ended the match before the break with the home side only able to score a consolation in injury time.
It puts the Blues in good heart ahead of the Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
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The next challenge for the manager to restore the attack will be to get his centre-forwards fit and firing again, with no league goal from either Gabriel Jesus or Sergio Aguero since the Brazilian pounced against Liverpool more than two months ago.
However, the improvement from elsewhere in the team means that is no longer as critical as it once was, with Wednesday the earliest opportunity to hit top spot in the Premier League. A sobering thought for the rest of the league is that if City have managed this without Jesus or Aguero scoring, what happens if they start contributing too?