Manchester City’s response to their alarming loss at Newcastle United 12 days ago has been emphatic with three wins, 11 goals and top spot in the Premier League regained, but nothing has resounded louder than Sunday’s 6-0 crushing of Chelsea.
City were back to their very best at the Etihad, smelling fear in a weak Chelsea defence and going for the jugular with Sergio Aguero scoring his second hat-trick of the week.
It was only in December that Chelsea beat City 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, the Manchester club’s first defeat of the Premier League campaign but one which was quickly followed by losses at home to Crystal Palace and at Leicester City.
There were key players missing through injury but also the team seemed to have lost its zip and energy and lacked the precision and rhythm that characterised their best performances.
But as City enter a crucial period, with their Champions League last 16 tie at Schalke 04 on Feb. 20 and League Cup final against Chelsea four days later, they look to be back to the form that saw them run away with the Premier League last season.
That record-breaking campaign, with City finishing 19 points clear after scoring 106 goals, was always going to be impossible to replicate, but manager Pep Guardiola sees the determination to maintain standards that he experienced at Barcelona.
“The desire to want to do the best is incredible and similar (to that at Barca),” said the Spaniard.
“For us to get 100 points, break all records and continue to push them and push them… these guys work a lot. The only way I know is the more you win, the more you have to work.”
It is difficult to define which players are the key to City’s success as that designation has revolved over time — David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho, in particular, were each sorely missed when out with injury.
Aguero’s goalscoring — he is now the joint top marksman in the league this season alongside Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah with 17, is also essential.
But the player who feels crucial to this period of City’s progress is Bernardo Silva, the Portuguese winger who was so impressive in the crucial home win against Liverpool and who terrorised Chelsea on Sunday.
Not only does he have the skills to be a tricky winger, delivering low, hard-hit crosses that Aguero and Raheem Sterling thrive off, but he looks comfortable in central roles and his incisive movement is often a cue for City to step up the tempo.
Before Wednesday’s 2-0 win at Everton, Guardiola was asked about his team lineup and said “Bernardo and 10 others” — a rare case of the Spaniard singling out a player in such fashion.
“Every single game he’s been perfect, his decision making on the movement, the way he leads the game, involved in it all,” he said.
Guardiola never fails to express his admiration for the two other teams in the title race — Liverpool, who are level on points with City, and Tottenham Hotspur five behind — but not for the first time he highlighted a fixture he sees as crucial.
“Top of the league, we have to wait to see when Liverpool go to (play Manchester United at) Old Trafford as we have played one more game. They win that and they are leaders, with us behind. But I am proud.
“What we did last season, to still be there every single game, that means a lot to me. So 11 games (to go), we are going to try until the end to retain the title.”