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Footballing Weekly: Could Manchester City finally be dethroned as Premier League champions this season?

Recent vulnerability that saw 3 draws and 1 defeat could have stemmed from key injuries and fatigue from their Treble-winning season

Manchester City striker Erling Haaland reacts during their 0-1 English Premier League loss against Aston Villa at Villa Park.
Manchester City striker Erling Haaland reacts during their 0-1 English Premier League loss against Aston Villa at Villa Park. (PHOTO: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Whisper it quietly, but are Manchester City finally looking beatable this English Premier League (EPL) season?

After winning three consecutive league titles, and steamrolling past all opposition last season - winning the league, FA Cup and Uefa Champions League Treble - the expensively-assembled City are showing signs of vulnerability at last.

A 0-1 defeat by in-form Aston Villa on Wednesday (6 December) followed three straight draws against Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham, and the defending champions have now dropped to fourth in the EPL table, six points behind leaders Arsenal.

What is ailing them? The most obvious reason is the long-term injuries to their key players - Kevin de Bruyne and John Stones. De Bruyne has been their best playmaker throughout their dominant stretch, while Stones has been a revelation last season in his crucial defender-midfielder hybrid role.

Both stalwarts have not played major minutes this season, and it is clear that Man City missed their presence, as they struggled to stamp their usual control and attacking verve on their matches. Against Villa, for example, City had only two shot attempts - uncharacteristic of a side which used to blow teams away with high-scoring victories when they were on song.

Another plausible reason is that the fatigue from chasing trophies on all fronts last season is finally catching up with Man City. It was a monumental achievement to win three top trophies, but that also entailed playing more matches than any team in the league as they advanced deep into the FA Cup and Champions League knockout stages.

While City do have strength in depth, the long season would have taken a toll on the physical fitness of their top players. Regular starters like Rodri, Ruben Dias, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish have yet to hit the heights of last season; even Erling Haaland, their irrepressible hulk of a striker, seems subdued in his bid to terrorise all rival defences this season.

Big question lingers: Can City regain their 'mojo'?

Which brings us to the biggest question of this EPL season: can Man City regain their best form and retain their title?

There are many fans who believe City will be much better once de Bruyne and Stones return from their injuries. And if their rivals have not opened up a sizeable advantage on them, then there is every chance that Man City could embark on another strong unbeaten run in the second half of the season - and overtake the rest of the field to win the league again.

But others feel that it is too optimistic to have de Bruyne and Stones back in tip-top form following their lengthy absences. Usually, players need a few weeks, maybe even a few months, to play themselves back to their best. Can City afford to wait for the duo?

Whatever it is, the defending champions' vulnerability is making this EPL season a wide-open race. Not only are regular challengers like Arsenal and Liverpool charging ahead, but dark horses such as Villa, Tottenham and Newcastle are also lurking not far behind.

Fans will hope such unpredictability can last throughout the long season, making it an exciting title race at last - without the inevitable feeling of City's dominance in the past few seasons.

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