The 2020/21 English Premier League season was always going to be a crucial one for experienced manager Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City recruits. Surrendering their hard-earned title to rivals Liverpool last term without as much as a challenge left supporters distraught. Fans that had become accustomed to dominating English football in recent years.

The top online sportsbooks all picked City as their favourites to regain the championship back in pre-season. That confident call from traders was backed up by several TV pundits, former top-level players, journalists, and experts.

As sports fans know, the beautiful game rarely follows a plan and regulars at the City of Manchester Stadium were reminded the same bookies had Man City as odds-on favourites back in the summer of 2019 and, as it worked out, they were way off the mark.

“English Premier League” by Adrian Dennis is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Full steam ahead

The Man City express appears to be firmly back on the tracks and progressing at full steam ahead. Despite missing the opening round of fixtures due to their exploits in the Champions League, the Cityzens wasted no time catching up and then overtaking the leading pack. They have shot into pole position and the form shown by the league leaders in the early exchanges of 2021 suggest they won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

The Sky Blues’ most important win of their challenge so far came on the first weekend of February when upsetting the odds to defeat last year’s rulers Liverpool at Anfield. Not only did Man City strengthen their position at the top of the table and put a dent in the hopes of Liverpool retaining the trophy, but they also did it in style. The victory on Merseyside was nothing short of remarkable and had any remaining doubters scrambling to join Team City.

Gundogan makes up for penalty miss

İlkay Gündoğan missed a glorious opportunity to open the scoring from the penalty spot in the first half but more than made up for that error with a double. He got his men off the mark with the game’s opener minutes after the second-half got underway and added a second on 73 minutes.

Teammate Raheem Sterling pounced less than 180 seconds later with a third City goal then Phil Foden rounded things off, killing the contest with a powerful effort in the dying minutes. With two of the winning team’s four goals scored by Englishmen, national manager Gareth Southgate was visibly impressed ahead of this summer’s rearranged Euro 2020 Championships.

“İlkay Gündoğan” by Independent is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Plenty of football still to be played

Speaking to the waiting press following what could prove to be a season-defining win for his crew, Guardiola told match reporters he was delighted his team were finally able to win at Anfield but thought it was a shame supporters missed out on such an emotional day. Pep was quick to remind everyone it is still early in the season and there’s lots of football to be played.

There may be lots of minutes left on the clock this season, but Man City certainly look to be English football’s dominant force once again. That win over Liverpool saw them open a 10-point gap over the Reds with a game in hand.

A glimpse of the future or slight blip

Stats of 15 wins against five draws and just two defeats in their first 22 starts saw Man City rack up 50 points, five more than nearest rivals Manchester United in second. They also have a game more to play than the Red Devils.

City appear to have already achieved their basic requirement of nailing down the top-four finish required to secure Champions League football for next season. The next phase of their fightback will focus on bringing the league flag back to the Etihad Stadium where supporters feel it should never have left.

Was last season the start of things to come with Man City facing increased competition or will it be remembered as little more than a blip in the recent history of English football’s most exciting team? Football followers will get an answer to that in the coming weeks with a crucial run of fixtures approaching for the pace setters.