No Sergio Agüero or Fernandinho? No Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo or Joe Hart in the starting lineup? Literally no problem for Manchester City. The Citizens held Premier League-leading Chelsea without a shot on target over 90 minutes at the Etihad, holding the lead for 71 minutes en route to a 2-0 FA Cup win over Chelsea.
Two weeks ago, Chelsea appeared to be the better side. An early goal from Branislav Ivanovic and 90 minutes of keeping City at arm’s length made the Blues the title favorites, a status emboldened by their place at the top of the table. But after a draw at West Brom and today’s performance in Manchester, it’s irresistible to ask: Is City’s game in hand and today’s win over Chelsea enough to make them title favorites? Right now all that separates Manuel Pellegrini’s team from the top of the table is a home win over Sunderland when the teams make up Wednesday’s cancellation.
There is an alternative: Let’s not pick a favorite. Let’s do more than give in to uncertainty. Let’s embrace it. Let’s learn from what we’ve seen through the six months of the season and accept there too many unknowns to offer a trustworthy prognosis. Let’s concede the things we know about Chelsea, Arsenal, City and Liverpool overwhelm the things we don’t. If we have to pick a favorite, let’s pick “I don’t know.”
Just look at all the times the narratives have been wrong this season. City couldn’t win on the road, and it was costing them too many points this fall? Nope. Chelsea’s relatively languid start as they adjusted to Mourinho? Right now, it’s as insignificant as the winter wavering between title favorites. For those who see the Citizens as surging, today’s win at Eastlands marks the second or third time this year we’ve had a new title favorite. And the year’s only seven weeks old.
At the risk of sounding too high-minded and aloof, let’s refrain from saying City’s the favorites. There a time for predictions, and this isn’t it. Let’s skip anointing Chelsea, Arsenal, or Liverpool, too. Let’s acknowledge that, while there certainly is a favorite in the cosmically absolute sense, we have no real clue who that is. It’s beyond us.
Instead, let’s enjoy the next turn. UEFA Champions League restarts this week, which means in addition to the increasingly tight domestic title race, Chelsea, City and Arsenal have to worry about Europe. The Citizens start on Tuesday against Barcelona. Arsenal welcomes Bayern Munich to London on Wednesday.
Does that mean Liverpool have an edge on the title’s other three challengers? Possibly, but I don’t know. I’m tired of trying to predict how this season’s going to play out.