Even in victory and after another sparkling showing from his team, Pep Guardiola had reason to return to a very familiar complaint.
Manchester City beat Watford 3-1 at Vicarage Road to go top of the Premier League for the first time this season but, to reference the famous terrace chant, maybe it should have been 10.
“We created more chances than Wednesday [the 2-1 win over Aston Villa], but the game could be over after 15 minutes,” he said, having seen Bernardo Silva move on to seven goals for the season with one in each half after an early opener from the resurgent Raheem Sterling.
“We missed a lot of chances and hopefully next time, we can convert.
“Scoring goals is the most difficult thing in football and we’re not specialists, but we’re playing well and it’s important to create the chances.”
It does not matter how majestic their build-up play is, or however much they dazzle opponents who they squeeze almost completely out of games, City’s lack of a natural goalscorer will continue to dominate the conversation around Guardiola’s team as they chase a fourth Premier League title in five seasons.
If they do not retain domestic supremacy, that is where the finger of blame will be pointed. Maybe that’s a simplistic analysis, but they do almost everything else so exceptionally well. Seeing City scythe through Watford repeatedly on Saturday evening, only for several clear chances to go begging, showed the only obvious flaw in their makeup.
Jack Grealish suffered frustration in front of goal but was integral to Man City’s win at Watford.
(Image: Lynne Cameron/Manchester City)
Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect team and, as the league table indicates, City are managing their own weaknesses better than the side who beat them in the Champions League final last season.
Chelsea dropped down to third after a 3-2 defeat at West Ham that you could argue has been a little while coming.
Thomas Tuchel’s side still have the joint-best defence in the Premier League alongside City, with a third of their nine goals conceded going past Edouard Mendy at London Stadium.
If Guardiola’s strikerless stars look like the antithesis of a typical title-winning side in England, Chelsea tick a lot of boxes for traditionalists. They’re solid, hard to break down and grind out results when they’re not at their best.
The West Ham loss was their second of the league season after City put on a mini-masterpiece at Stamford Bridge in September. However, they have been a touch fortunate not to have found themselves on the wrong end of results more often.
Chelsea have now had a worse expected goals (xG) total than their opponents in five of their 15 Premier League games this season.
Gabriel Jesus celebrates scoring against Chelsea.
Now, xG is a polarising stat for some, but if you’re only creating a cumulatively better standard of chances than your opponents two-thirds of the time, there is a danger that starts to catch up with you. Perhaps that is what we saw starting to happen in the West Ham defeat.
By contrast, according to FBref, City have had a better xG than their opponents in 13 out of 15 Premier League outings this term, with the games against Crystal Palace and Aston Villa – the former a defeat after Aymeric Laporte was sent off – all square on the metric.
Some of the xG margins in City’s favour have been huge and it shows Pep Guardiola’s team are almost always the better team, enjoying the clearer chances on account of outplaying everyone in their path. Extend that over a full season and you will not be far away from where you want to be.
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“The result can be random but consistency is the most important thing to help us be a stable team, that’s why we’ve won seven in a row,” Guardiola added, noting how City’s form in all competitions has kicked ominously into gear since that Palace setback
“Today one team dropped points, next week it could be us or Liverpool – many things can happen.”
That’s true, Liverpool themselves were very close to slipping up at Wolves on Saturday before Divock Origi’s last-gasp winner. Like Chelsea’s gutsier triumphs this year, goals like the one Jurgen Klopp revelled in at Molineux are seen as the signs of champions.
They certainly can be, but relying on such moments puts you at the mercy of the randomness Guardiola mentioned.
City’s sometimes slapdash finishing also leaves them exposed in that regard but by dominating everyone in their path, the Blues are leaving less to chance than their two main rivals.