The Premier League season is now 10 games old, the point at which we can start to draw robust conclusions about the relative strength and quality of all participating teams. By now, anyone who works by a ratings system has a pretty clear idea of where each team ranks from 1 to 20, and the level of variance from one system to another will usually be nominal.
Oddly, the team who now pose the biggest headache for many is Manchester City. There’s little doubt that Pep Guardiola’s men are the best team in the English top flight - and after Wednesday’s scintillating 4-2 triumph on the road at Italian pacesetters Napoli, some would say Europe - but the question is: just how good are they? And how sustainable is their current form?
As far as the underlying numbers go, the Sky Blues are venturing into unchartered territory. This is a level of domination that English football has never witnessed before, so finding the true price on them winning their next game is no easy task. For bookmakers, who stand to lose fortunes in low-stakes accumulators, any slight inaccuracy can be very costly.
Only twice in the last eight years has a team reached this point with a shot ratio that has crept above 75 per cent. City under Roberto Mancini (75.68) were the most recent in their title-winning 2011/12 season, while Chelsea in their first campaign under Carlo Ancelotti (75.19) hit a similar standard. Currently, City boast a shot ratio of greater than 82 per cent.
This is a truly jaw-dropping hike, a process fully supported by outcomes in the league table and, particularly, the goal difference column. In effect, Guardiola is scaling the same heights he did in his best days at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but in a league where the possibility of such dominance is meant to be vastly reduced by the level of chaos in open play.
So it’s fair to say the compilers are running for cover, laying the shortest prices they can get away with. But that’s still no guarantee of sanctuary, and it doesn’t mean City aren’t a viable option for value-seeking punters. In this instance, it probably boils down to circumstance and whether momentum is likely to be disrupted by their exertions in Naples.
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Everybody knew in advance that City were set for a gruelling 90 minutes at the Stadio San Paolo, and also that Arsene Wenger would rest his entire starting XI for Arsenal’s Europa League clash with Red Star Belgrade. Presumably, everyone would also agree that a humbling defeat for City would have reduced their chances of victory here.
However, the margins between fatigue and euphoria aren’t so clear-cut and putting a number on the degree to which City will be boosted by their success over Maurizio Sarri’s men is tricky. Comparing the current Asian handicap market with how it stood on Wednesday morning, the home team supremacy for this game has improved by 0.13 goals.
After last weekend’s 3-2 win over West Brom, Guardiola alluded to the fact he was approaching the next two games as a pair. So with Kyle Walker rested altogether, David Silva and Bernardo Silva spared until the final 20 minutes and Gabriel Jesus not seeing the grass until stoppage time, the complications will be met on Guardiola’s terms.
Indeed, when you begin to explore the key moments in midweek and why Guardiola selected the team he did, it’s hard to escape the impression that everything went like clockwork, meaning he can now follow through on whatever plan he had pre-conceived for this next challenge. Bear in mind that City drifted from 6/4 out to 19/10 after the team sheets had been released on Wednesday.
It’s easy to get carried away with the lustre of Guardiola as a tactician, but when you pitch his intensity and attention to detail against a macro-manager like Arsene Wenger, it doesn’t inspire much optimism in the Gunners upsetting the odds here - whether that’s the 13/2 available on them to win the game or the 9/2 just to nick a point.
The size of that price on the stalemate tells you everything you need to know about City’s ballsy approach in the realm of uncertainty. Home wins this season have been achieved by five-, five-, five- and three-goal margins. If Guardiola’s pre-match video analysis proves fruitful and the game is played predominantly on his terms, City should have little trouble clearing the -1.5 Asian handicap.
Man City -1.5 on the Asian handicap at 11/10