1- Right Manager: Football website 90 Mins have a very interesting list of the world’s top 20 managers, and guess who tops the list? Pep Guardiola. The Manchester City boss has remained at the forefront of football innovation and reaped his third Premier League title in five years courtesy of that. This season alone, his use of a False Nine, deployment of Joao Cancelo as an extra central midfielder and reinvention of Ilkay Gundogan as an goalscoring attacking midfielder all point to a gaffer on top of his game. Matter of fact, the two other managers to win the Premiership in the last five years – Jurgen Klopp (4), and Antonio Conte (6) feature highly in the 90 Mins list.
2– Good Supporting Cast: Men and women who pull the strings behind the scenes matter. Guardiola and Klopp can both count on a very patient board that allows them to plan for the long term. A correct supporting cast also includes which team a manager assembles to spot what he might have missed. The Jose Mourinho of 2003-10 had Rui Faria and Andre Villas Boas. Sir Alex Ferguson could count on Brian Kidd. Guardiola has Juan Manuel Lillo. Petr Cech spotted keeper Edouard Mendy for Chelsea. On the other hand, a mute, technically challenged/blind assistant, as Steve Bould was to Arsene Wenger in his later years can cost a team dearly
3-Clever Transfer Business: Manchester City’s transformation into a defensive powerhouse in 2020/21 has coincided with the recruitment of $63m Ruben Dias from Benfica. He has made all the club’s previously underperforming expensive defenders tick. Same thing happened with Liverpool when they recruited Virgil van Dijk and followed him up with Allison Becker. On the flip side, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santos’ decline from EPL emerging force to run of the mill boss has been a direct result of mistakes in the transfer market that saw Diogo Jota and Matt Doherty leave for less than adequate replacements.
4- Superior Collective Football Intelligence: Assembling a team with the sum of the parts topping the competition requires a careful recruitment policy that celebrates high individual football IQ. City boss Pep famously dreams of the day he will field a starting line up with eleven clever midfielders deployed across the pitch. It starts with keeper Ederson who must pass as well as a top notch creative midfielder, is evident in Pep’s insistence on ball playing defenders such as John Stones and Zinchenko and is most apparent in the deployment of an all midfielder attacking line up in a 4-6-0 formation. All this is part of an attempt to reach the pinnacle of collective football Intelligence.
5- Conquering The Road: Big teams win anywhere. This year’s Premier League has witnessed a hitherto unseen phenomena in which the Top Four as at May 12 – Manchester City, Man United, Leicester City and Chelsea – have all won more points on the road than from the comforts of their home grounds. Though absence of fans could be a factor, the high success rate of three of these sides is replicated in Europe where they will feature in finals of the continent’s premier club competitions later this month. City are the team that best understand that any team that can’t win on the road is doomed.
6- Internal Competition: Apparently, Manchester City have been the most rotated side in the division with Pep choosing the same starting XI in consecutive games only twice this season. The ability to retain a competitive edge while changing starting line ups weekly has not only kept the entire squad fresh, it has fostered internal competition for place, hence improving the team’s overall quality. Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel is also reaping dividends from astute tinkering. Injuries aside, Jurgen Klopp’s failure to adopt an effective rotation policy has been one of the reasons for Liverpool’s underperformance this season.
7- Winning Runs: Premier League championss in the last five years have been able to string together extended winning runs. Antonio Conte’s 2017 winners strung together a then record 13 wins in a row. Manchester City and Liverpool have since surpassed Conte’s Chelsea by a wide margin. City have particularly been good at stringing runs together. Their 2020/21 success was built on a 28-game unbeaten run in which they won 15 games in a row. Faint hearted sides are incapable of such sustained success.