"When you play against the contenders it’s almost six points, isn’t it?"
That was Pep Guardiola’s assessment in October as Manchester City prepared to face Tottenham at Wembley having already beaten Arsenal and drawn away at Liverpool in the opening weeks of the season. In his view, matches against our direct rivals would determine the outcome of the Premier League title race.
"That’s why maybe the games against the contenders are becoming so important," he said. "We’ve started with three games away against them.
"It is so important to take those points - when you win, he doesn’t win.”
Sunday saw City win the most competitive battle for the Premier League in recent memory – perhaps of all time – finishing one point ahead of Liverpool, whose tally of 97 would have seen them win them win the Premier League in every other year except the last two.
In a season where such fine margins were key, Guardiola’s assertion that the mini-league involving the proverbial Big Six would be key proved prophetic.
City took 25 points from 10 matches against our top-six rivals, only dropping points against Liverpool (1-1 draw at Anfield) and Chelsea (2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge) and finishing top of the Big Six mini-league by a distance. Our record was six points better than Liverpool’s and 13 better than Chelsea and Arsenal.
Perhaps our most important result was the 2-1 win over Liverpool at the Etihad in early January. Defeat would have seen us slip 10 points adrift and effectively end our hopes of back-to-back titles. The win closed the gap to a much more manageable four-point deficit and appeared to have a significant psychological effect on our fiercest title rival whose form faltered in the weeks afterwards.
February's 6-0 victory over Chelsea was a statement of intent, as was our opening-day 2-0 win at the Emirates. After our Centurion campaign and a gruelling World Cup that saw 16 of our players involved in Russia, to win at Arsenal on the opening weekend of the season allayed any fears of tiredness or a reduction in hunger.
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Our 3-1 victory at home to United was perhaps the most comfortable, with the 44-pass goal that sealed the win underlining our dominance. In the return fixture, just four matches before the end of the season, we registered out sixth win at Old Trafford in eight years. It felt like a significant hurdle had been cleared as City left with all three points.
In probably the most competitive Premier League campaign of all-time, to take 25 points from our direct rivals was impressive and, perhaps, key to achieving back-to-back titles.
Final Top Six mini-league
1 City – 25 points
2 Liverpool – 19 points
3 Arsenal – 12 points
4 Chelsea – 12 points
5 Tottenham – 7 points
6 Manchester United – 7 points