Imagine all the words used across the vast expanse of the globe in the past year. Imagine all words spoken by those you have interacted with. There is one word, barring the dreaded pandemic, that has stood out. Almost to the extent of comical overuse - uncertainty. The world has been plunged into a deep concoction of confusion and chaos. One where next day is unknown and next week a prayer. Football - a sub-function of life that is a super-function in terms of meticulous long-termism has also fallen prey. Forget next year, let us look at the next game. This has been the beckon call of every actor and sub-actor of our great sport. And yet in this uncertainty, one overarching narrative seems to be fast emerging. Manchester City and another light blue ribbon on the Premier League trophy.
The City Board has been a source of constant support. Even in a time so plagued, Manchester City bosses have found shelling pounds rather effortless. In football's microcosm when compared to the grief of the outside world, City's spending was a necessity. The Manchester club are in the middle of a transition. One which requires investment and perhaps even modern football's great nemesis, time. And this strange, curtailed season offers and flatters time. In one sense, the hiccups of all provide space for hiccups from one's own self. At the same time, the claustrophobia of collection offers little room for further slipping.
Manchester City - blue moon rising
The Premier League itself has been a tease of suitors galore. Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Everton, Manchester United and Liverpool. All these heavyweights have played contenders and pretenders.
But as time causes the dust to settle, only one seems to be able to ride the uncertainty. Pep Guardiola and his band of passmasters.
The league started with Carlo Ancelotti's Everton setting pace. James Rodriguez took to the league in his creative best, spurring Dominic Calvert Lewin into England's national team. And Everton to unchartered table summit. Chelsea mounted a brief chase. Riding on the back of Mason Mount and Kurt Zouma, Frank Lampard flattered to deceive. And where Chelsea is, Jose Mourinho is never far away. So, it was Tottenham's turn next. Son and Kane juggled chef and sous-chef to momentarily suspend disbelief. Mourinho brushed aside opponents for a little period. And there were believers. But, it was yet another deception.
Ole was not to be left behind either. The Norwegian brought the vibes. And coupled with mercurial Paul Pogba's hashtag Pogboom, there were glory-laden dreams at the Old Trafford theatre. Until from their south-east came the harmless Sheffield United. And caused their title aspirations a lot of harm. Queued up to strike were Manchester City. Guardiola's obsessive geometrical precision and artistic rendition took charge. And as we approach business end, it is increasingly the blue moon rising story.
Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo in Manchester City rise
City made a rather wobbly start to the Premier League. And the backline was a sore point. It had been over the last two years. Vincent Kompany left a gaping void with his departure. Enter Ruben Dias. In his 19 league appearances, City have lost only once. A leader and a presence. The Portuguese magnifico of blue penchant has quietly taken Premier League leap. And landed on the summit.
This Portuguese, though, is not a scorer of goals. He prevents goals. And also seemingly revives careers. In his 14 starts with the previously maligned John Stones, Manchester City have kept 13 clean sheets. Only 1 goal conceded. Suddenly this season, City look a tough nut to crack. Even for the toughest nutcrackers. City have also been assisted by its myriad star cast. And one of the other protagonists has been Joao Cancelo. Defender. Full back. Attacker. Midfielder. Everything. Cancelo has sometimes felt like a charming integration of Philipp Lahm and Dani Alvez. All action, all the time. Everywhere.
Cancelo is the only player this season to have more than 50 passes, 2 chances created and 2 tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League. In fact, Cancelo's 3.78 xA (expected assists) is bettered only by six players in the league.
Strength and adventure. Dias and Cancelo. Portuguese and fellow Portuguese. Their combined work has been a consistently shining light attracting yet another blue moon in England.
Pep Guardiola and Plan B
This consistency, however, is a function of necessary tweaks. Guardiola has been brave. Not only in his football but also in his abandon. There have been nights when the perceptive Pep has pulled the Manchester City reins.
A visit to Old Trafford offering a telling case in point. Beaten twice in as many league meetings last season, Guardiola approached the Manchester Derby with caution. And a point for Manchester City meant denial of two more to the nearest contenders.
Manchester City have only once previously afforded respect of similar ilk. That was Liverpool. And an all-action, heavy metal, uncontrollable press-machines Liverpool. But, at an uncertain time, City have occasionally traded fun for certainty. No defeats. And when time comes, Manchester City have set up a stall of frolic and goals.
Plan B has transcended just approach. It is a constant need of Guardiola to evolve beyond the always visible. Kevin De Bruyne is the visible. Ilkay Gundogan is only now visible. The German has been what the Belgian was in his magisterial days. 7 goals and 77 recoveries. Thousand passes and zero errors leading to goals. Gundogan has become key to Guardiola's system of unlocking opponents.
City has also exceedingly used the False 9. With Aguero and Jesus unavailable, City has managed their goals with excelling dexterity. Foden, Sterling and Mahrez have all picked moments to keep the City train full steam ahead. Even the out of form Bernardo Silva has summoned class to deliver difference making punches.
Manchester City and a local battle
What comes shall pass. And what stays shall be called class.
Mourinho and his band of functional fantasticos have fizzled. Ancelotti and his ensemble of exciting hombres have lost charm. Lampard's legion met a doomed end. Klopp and Liverpool have rallied between exhilarating and exhausting. Thus remains only one more. Pretenders for so many. Just a bit of vibes for others. But Manchester City seemingly have only a neighbourly nuisance.
Manchester United from across the M62 is Manchester City's premier contender to the Premier League. One can say this one is like old times. Manchester United and another for the title. But Manchester City was of little consequence then. One may say this one is like the new times. But that would be an eulogy too stratospheric for United's recent mediocrity. Truth is, this one is like no other. A unique title race for a unique world. And Manchester City seem sole monarch unless they cease survey.