Even after a weekend in which Manchester City put in the worst performance of the Premier League’s top-four, the champions have strolled towards a fourth title in five years.
City manager Pep Guardiola admitted his side were second-best despite coming from behind to beat Arsenal at 10 2-1 with a 93rd-minute winner securing an 11th consecutive league victory.
As Guardiola’s men hit their stride, Chelsea and Liverpool ran out of steam to turn a close three-horse race into a procession.
Struck by coronavirus outbreaks and injuries, City’s two challengers for the crown embarked on a titanic battle at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, but a 2-2 draw did little to help hopes on either side to overthrow the leaders.
City’s advantage is now 10 points behind Chelsea, Liverpool with one more point behind with one game less.
“It’s a big gap so they maybe have the title to lose right now,” said Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, one of those forced into a quick return to action after being tested positive for Covid-19.
“We just have to get results, play good football and win games. It sounds easy enough, but it is difficult. “
Rather than closing the gap, it is likely that it could increase in the coming weeks as Chelsea and Liverpool tackle their own issues.
The two are involved in the Coupe de la Ligue semi-finals for the next two weeks despite calls from managers to switch ties to one-off matches.
Chelsea signing record Romelu Lukaku has been dropped for Sunday’s crucial clash after an explosive interview with Italian media in which he revealed his dissatisfaction with how his first season at Bridge went.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was also out due to a Covid infection, alongside Alisson Becker, Roberto Firmino and Joel Matip.
– Salah, Mane to miss –
And the Reds must now do without their top scorers, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, for up to a month due to their international commitments at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Chelsea will also lose goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to the CAN, while first choice wingers Reece James and Ben Chilwell will be injured for months.
“How should we be in a title race?” Blues boss Thomas Tuchel complained earlier this week after his side were forced to fill in all of their December matches, while another 18 Premier League games were called off due to Covid outbreaks.
Even as Tuchel and Klopp’s men have returned to their early-season form, City’s relentless consistency shows no sign of offering a glimmer of hope.
They have averaged 95 points in each of Guardiola’s three winning seasons in England and are set to reach that mark again.
“We showed our champion mentality, we never give up,” midfielder Rodri said after his late strike in the Emirates kept City’s winning run going.
“We know how difficult it is to win the Premier League and we are not going to let it go.
“We don’t look at other people a lot and win 11 games in a row shows that we are focused on ourselves.”
If Manchester United beat Wolves on Monday, the same 10-point gap between first and second will separate Chelsea at Tottenham in seventh, who have three games in hand.
With City in a league of their own, the title race quickly turned into a familiar fight just to join them in the Champions League next season.
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