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Football Whispers
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Manchester City are in fine shape despite slower start, sitting fourth in table

The Exploding Heads look back at August in the Premier League which included Jose Mourinho's mind games, forced rivalries and Jurgen Klopp's shopping spree.

A story has no beginning or end, Graham Greene wrote, and although much has been made this week of Sheikh Mansour's 10-year stint as owner of Manchester City, racing starts to the season start to look much like immaculate ends to them under Pep Guardiola. These days, you might say it is business as usual.

So, what can we glean from this campaign's early sparring that might offer some pointers as to what comes next?

Many expected Liverpool's weighty summer investment to produce a proper title challenge, and Jurgen Klopp's side thus far has not disappointed, waiting until the fourth game of the season to concede their first goal and already sitting pretty at the top of the table with four wins out of four. If the idea was to throw down the gauntlet good and early, Liverpool has done so.

That Chelsea, once again under new management, have stirred themselves from the bruising they took from City at Wembley in the Community Shield speaks volumes for the quick-witted Maurizio Sarri. Thought to need some time to come to terms with the unique qualities of the Premier League, the Italian has instead got the West Londoners motoring from the off.

And with Watford also starting at a gallop, City, in fourth place, can already take stock.

They have played two games against heavyweight London opponents (Chelsea and Arsenal), two home games against what are likely to be makeweights (Huddersfield and Newcastle) and an away game at newly promoted Wolves. Unbeaten in those matches, the only points dropped were at Molineux, where a resurgent Wolves held level despite City hitting the frame three times, having a clear penalty waved away and conceding a goal to Wolves centre-back Willy Boly that the defender directed into the goal with a well-placed wrist.

The two points lost in the West Midlands are the difference between City leading the pack at this early stage and sitting just behind the three 100-percent sides.

Much has been made of the fact that last season, when so many records fell, could not possibly be matched, let alone surpassed. The truth is that back-to-back Premier League titles and a run through to the latter stages of the Champions League will almost certainly be seen as an improvement, even if last season's massive points and goals haul is not equaled.

Guardiola and his staff will be fully aware that, in order to bring this goal to fruition, they'll have to carefully rotate the squad. Already the Catalan has seen talisman Kevin De Bruyne removed from the equation with serious injury, and questions remain about Leroy Sane's mindset after his World Cup omission.

With new signing Riyad Mahrez also taking time to find his feet, the coach already has plenty on his plate. City, in gliding past Chelsea at Wembley and pinning Arsenal back on their own pitch, once again revealed the big-match mentality that served them so well last season. Long gone are the days when supporters dreaded the prospect of seeing City play one of the big guns. The transformation from fearful to feared is complete and still intact, as Chelsea and Arsenal both can attest.

Huddersfield, too, will vouch for City's ability to turn over less well-prepared sides. In shipping six at the Etihad, they have done the others a favour, reminding anyone who needs reminding that anything other than complete commitment and focus is likely to result in being trampled upon.

So, what of the other two games? Does a narrow home win over Newcastle offer hope? Can a 1-1 draw at the home of a newly promoted side produce optimism for the other title challengers?

On the face of it, one might say yes. But considering both Wolves and, in particular, Newcastle could have ended up worse off than they did, the truth is that Guardiola's side appear to be finding their stride comfortably enough, with an identical record to the 2017-18 start.

With Oxford and Lyon kicking off City's quest for League Cup and Champions League glory, respectively, the packed fixture list of September and October will quickly sort the wheat from the chaff.

City, honed and primed, know exactly what it takes to get to the top and stay there, while competing on other fronts simultaneously. They also are aware that the pressure is on the others to respond. At least, in gaining 12 points from their first four fixtures, Liverpool and Chelsea have shown willing. Whether galloping hard while looking regularly over their shoulders will be to their liking will become clear in the coming weeks.

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