Is this a real Premier League title race or an expertly maintained illusion?

<span><een klas=The head coach of Manchester CityPep Guardiola, knows that another Premier League title won’t make or break his legacy anyway.Photo: Dave Thompson/AP” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ 4443890c606bf91″ data src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ 443890c606bf91″/>

Hello Hello. To test. Is this thing still on? As we enter the penultimate weekend of the Premier League season, there is likely to be a title race to appear to exist. Arsenal are at the top, one point ahead of Manchester City. City have a game in hand. Mathematically, nothing has been decided or arranged yet.

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether this is actually a real title race, or whether we are simply living in an expertly maintained illusion. After all, it has been almost three months since City dropped points against anyone other than a direct title rival. They haven’t lost in the league since December and are on a run of six straight wins. Three more will be enough to retain the league title. Two will be enough if Arsenal make a mistake at Old Trafford on Sunday.

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Danger, danger, parries and bumps, bumps in the road, boiling tempers and feverish eyebrows: these are all the classic ingredients of a title race. Instead, City have effectively eschewed them all, ripping up the script in favor of a bloodless cruise to excellence.

The model here is 2018-2019, when City gleefully strung Liverpool along for 15 weeks as an elaborate internet phishing scam, tantalizing them with the prospect of a prize they ultimately never had within their grasp. Liverpool lost once all season, won their last nine games and finished on 97 points. City won their last fourteen games and – surprise! – ended on 98.

This season has superficially felt more like a scrap, with Liverpool originally making it a three-horse race, and several lead changes due to quirks in the match. But the meta-narrative has remained essentially consistent: the city gradually picks up the pace until no one can live with them anymore.

Arsenal’s own challenge may well have failed with the 2-0 home defeat to Aston Villa in April. They were still able to climb their own personal Everest and rack up 89 points – their highest total since the Invincibles season. They managed to finish with a record of 16-1-1 in their last 18 games, but then reached the top to find City already there, beaming at them, with the blue flag planted. It may turn out that the last month of their season was a complete waste of time, time spent futilely convincing themselves that they were chasing something real.

And they would certainly not be alone in this regard. An entire title race industrial complex – frothing pundits, ominous headlines, meandering phone shows – has been built up for months in anticipation of an epic denouement, as if a thrilling finish could be achieved simply by incantation. Conversely, it is remarkable how few dramatic twists there have been, how little noise and fury, how little intrigue and mind games that would normally indicate a tightening of the race.

What we get from City instead is the kind of faint electronic hum you associate with a household appliance you’ve long taken for granted. Everyone is united and ready, all tendrils pointing in one direction, all nerve endings aligned with a single focus. Almost the only noise was some rumblings about Jack Grealish’s future and possible midfield transfer targets for the summer. This is City’s business, and they know it better than anyone.

Furthermore, there is an eerie peace. There is a school of thought that City are a club driven by resentment and antagonism, fueled by antagonism and spoiled for bits at every opportunity. Perhaps this is true at boardroom level, or on the wild frontiers of the internet, where City fans remain unparalleled in their ability to harbor conspiracy theories and illusory put-downs, desperate to be hated. But within the four hard walls of that pale blue dressing room, Pep Guardiola has long mastered the art of turning off the lights, silencing the noise and smoothing out the rough edges in his quest for a frictionless winning machine.

That much is evident from the thunderously boring Netflix documentary chronicling their triple-winning season, a show that contains so little internal tension that at one point we’re treated to several minutes of Grealish talking – seriously – about how much he loves Bovril. “Oh, those Bovrils at Bristol City, now we’re talking,” says Grealish. “How good is it? Manu [Akanji], have you ever had a Bovril, do you like gravy? I took home about eight of them. I gave them to people. Bovvy. I love it.”

For Guardiola, part of this intense calm comes from experience: not just the knowledge that he has been here before, but the certainty that one more title won’t make or break his legacy anyway. “It’s not winning or losing that will change my opinion of this season,” he said this month. “We can lose all four games, and that means I don’t trust my players? It’s impossible.”

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The small string of injuries from earlier in the season have disappeared, leaving a fully fit squad for the visit of Fulham on Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, Arsenal must watch and wait before heading to Old Trafford to play what is technically still Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United. And as much as Arsenal will start as favourites, Liverpool have already discovered three times this season that a wounded United, who are not obliged to win and only want to play on the counter, can be a surprisingly dangerous animal.

Be that as it may, at some point – be it on Tuesday or the following Sunday – there is a good chance that City will toast another title, a sixth title in seven seasons, the kind of dynastic dominance that English football fans have always loved have ridiculed in other seasons. to land. Perhaps this is now the real peasant union: a union that was bought and cultivated, and is now harvested at its leisure.

The outcome of the 115 charges against City in the Premier League remains a distant, paradoxical point on the horizon: it never really gets closer, no matter how much time passes. And in any case, City’s ultimate innocence or guilt is only tangentially relevant here. The broader picture is that dominance on this scale, whether earned legally or illegally, whether earned through state patronage or control of the fine print, comes at a cost to the spectacle as a whole.

Perhaps then the bewilderment over the title race is the kind that becomes inevitable when a competition starts to revolve so completely around one club. This is City’s universe now, and even as you push against the walls it’s never quite clear how much of it is real and how much is projection.

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