The international break comes at a great time for Manchester City. They’re now coming off two consecutive Premier League matches in which they haven’t quite been able to maintain the peak altitudes they’ve hit at times during this soaring season of theirs—a relative slippage they most likely chalk up to fatigue. As long as City’s stars return to work in a couple weeks’ time uninjured and rejuvenated, they should be able to rebound from mere comprehensive beatdowns, and return to absolutely bulldozing whoever stands before them on their seemingly inexorable march to domination.
A week ago it was West Brom’s turn to get eaten up in the dulled but still whirring blades of City’s combine harvester. The final score was 3-2 in Man City’s favor, but that didn’t really tell the story of the game. City jumped out to an early lead in the 10th minute, saw West Brom level things almost right away, only to re-establish their lead immediately after the equalizer, and then cruise the rest of the way in a state of comfortable but cautious control. City couldn’t really relax until Raheem Sterling gave them a two-goal lead in the 64th minute in that match, but even by the end the tenacious Baggies made things almost interesting by cutting into the lead early on in stoppage time. City never appeared to be in any real pressure, but it wasn’t as convincing a performance as we’ve come to expect from this team playing at their apex, either.
The story was similar this weekend. City hosted Arsenal on Sunday and came out with an arguably deceiving 3-1 win. It wasn’t so much that Pep Guardiola’s men struggled—though optimistic Arsenal fans wouldn’t be wrong to take heart from the way the Gunners competed with the league leaders—but had a couple refereeing decisions (the penalty Sterling won that Sergio Agüero converted for the 2-0 goal was a totally fair call but also wasn’t so obvious a foul that anyone would’ve caterwauled had the ref not given it, and David Silva was clearly well offside on the Gabriel Jesus goal that killed the match off) not gone City’s way, it wouldn’t have been unfair at all had Arsenal come away with something.
But that’s the whole thing about Manchester City right now. There City were, hosting a fresh and hungry Arsenal, many of City’s players visibly tired coming off their difficult and hugely impressive midweek away win at Napoli, and yet City still created good chances almost at will, still locked down one of the EPL’s premier teams, and still clearly outplayed an ostensible rival for the Champions League places. They are so unstoppably great right now that even when they don’t play all that well, they can still walk to victory against a really good team.
Again, Arsenal didn’t play poorly at all and City didn’t curb-stomp them by any means, and yet the Sky Blues easily could’ve been 5-0 up an hour into the match. Leroy Sané and David Silva both sent tantalizing crosses fizzing right in front of the goal line only for no City player to be close enough to tap them in. Sterling led what was practically a must-score 2-on-1 counter but wound up overhitting the resulting pass to a wide-open Sané. These were just some of the opportunities City created that, had their guys been a tick bit sharper, would’ve made what was a pretty close game a veritable route.
In a new Premier League era defined by parity at the top of the table, City right now stand head and shoulders above everyone else. Even a potential testament to their humanity—the fact that they don’t always play so well as to make the question not whether or not they’ll win, but instead if the ass-kicking they hand out will be so thorough that a couple players on the other side will consider retirement—is in fact just more proof of their otherworldly superiority. This has to be downright terrifying for every other club in England and in Europe.
As much joy and confidence as the blue side of Manchester should rightfully take from the first dozen or so dates of the Man City Traveling Demolition Show, this team isn’t invulnerable. Though they’ve spent approximately £8 trillion over the past few years to construct this juggernaut of a squad, they’re still uniquely susceptible to an injury or two throwing their season into a tailspin. If the indefatigable and irreplaceable Fernandinho ever gets hurt and is forced to sit out a substantial chunk of the season, that alone could cripple the masterful playing style they’ve perfected. So while success in the form of trophies seems all but guaranteed—FiveThirtyEight’s nerd formula puts City’s EPL title chances at a whopping 81 percent—the English and Champions League seasons are long and full of surprises.
Still, at their best, City have demonstrated that not a single one of their rivals can consistently compete with this team’s staggering potency when they’re firing on all cylinders. What’s even scarier is that, as they proved this weekend against Arsenal, they might not even have to be at peak performance to beat up on the rest of the league.