Who can prevent a Manchester City reign of terror?

IT may be misplaced confidence, it may be over-optimism, it may be kidology, but United’s Ander Herrera is adamant that bitter rivals, City, are not on the verge of an era of dominance in English football, even if they lift the Premier League trophy today by winning the Manchester derby.

Who can prevent a Manchester City reign of terror?

City, 16 points clear, can create history this evening by becoming the first Premier League side to clinch the title with five games to spare — and with April barely begun.

It makes you think of the 1999-2000 United team, which won the title with four games to go and ended the season 18 points clear of nearest rivals, Arsenal, a lead that still stands in the record books (in the Premier League era, at least). That team won seven more titles, before Alex Ferguson retired.

The question is: can Pep Guardiola’s side achieve the same run of success, and what do the remainder of the big six need to do to prevent that?

“I’m not worried about that,” said Herrera. “Things change all the time in football and the champion changes, too. City will not always be top of the table. I want to see Manchester United on top and the other clubs don’t matter to me at all. But, for United fans, I know it’s difficult to see City above us, so we have to put it right.

“In my mind, United are good enough to be champions and that’s our aim next season. It’s very important.”

It’s a bold statement, because, at first glance, City look streets ahead of their neighbours, in terms of strength of squad, style of play, and blueprint for success.

United, meanwhile, have displayed a haphazard recruitment policy, have forgotten the playing style which defined them and, quite frankly, are relying on the talent of Jose Mourinho to win them trophies. That’s why the prospect of losing at the Etihad, and of coughing up the title to their noisy neighbour in such a symbolic way, is making United fans nervous.

“Our main reason for wanting to beat City is because we need to create a greater lead in second place,” says Herrera. “But, of course, if we delay City from winning the title, then it is also great news. We know how happy United fans will be if we win. We’re very aware of what it means.”

The problem for United is that it may end up meaning more than they know; it could be the moment when City’s confidence, knocked by that Champions League nightmare at Anfield, grows another notch and inspires further title victories.

For United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, and even Arsenal, it’s a situation that needs a lot of thought going into this summer’s transfer window.

How they react will determine whether this title is a one-off for Guardiola or the first of many.

Turning pretenders into champions

LIVERPOOL

What they need:

A world-class goalkeeper, further support in central midfield, and another centre-half to support Virgil van Dijk. And, of course, a better defensive record.

Biggest priority:

Keeping hold of Mo Salah — because there will be bids from European giants this summer, no doubt about it.

What fans fear:

Seeing Salah head the same way as Philippe Coutinho.

Cause for optimism:

The commitment of managerJurgen Klopp to the project, the knowledge that his team have improved every season under him, so far, and the fact that they are now City’s bogey team.

Verdict:

If they bring in a new goalkeeper and keep improving, then Liverpool will go much closer next season.

MANCHESTER UNITED

What the need:

A serious clear-out. There are major questions over the quality of Manchester United’s defenders — three new ones wouldn’t be over-kill — and United cannot continue to rely on second-tier players, such as Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Marouane Fellaini to win a title for them.

Biggest priority:

Some major signings, as Mourinho looks to rebuild the squad in his own image. He prefers big names who have the mentality of champions, so you can expect them to come with a lot of zeros on the end of the transfer fee. Replacing the retiring Michael Carrick should be high on the list.

What fans fear:

A big bid from Real Madrid for goalkeeper David de Gea, who this season has again been outstanding. An internal fall-out may be a fear, too. There’s a good reason why Mourinho doesn’t often last beyond the two-year mark at a club — and so his reportedly deteriorating relationship with Paul Pogba is a worrying sign.

Cause for optimism:

Mourinho’s record of success, including the trophies he has already won at Old Trafford, and reports that the transfer war-chest this summer will be suitably large. Players already linked include Antoine Griezmann, Willian, Ivan Perisic, Gareth Bale, Blaise Matuidi, Samuel Umititi, and even Neymar. So, take your pick!

Verdict: It’s a vital summer of recruitment and squad re-shuffling — and that makes United hard to predict. The Mourinho factor is vital, but Liverpool are ahead in their development.

TOTTENHAM

What they need:

To win the FA Cup this year. Winning their first trophy together could be the spark required for Mauricio Pochettino’s side to take the next step because a lack of silverware is holding Spurs back.

Biggest priority:

It’s a tough one because there are no glaring gaps in the squad. It’s more a case of whether Pochettino can add a magical player to take them to the next level. They have first option on Gareth Bale, should he decide to leave Real Madrid and that would be perfect.

What fans fear:

A difficult start to life in their new stadium, because a slow start at Wembley this year, was harmful. If the stadium isn’t ready in time

— and Spurs have to start the campaign with a run of away fixtures — that’s a problem, too. They need to keep Harry Kane and Dele Alli.

Cause for optimism:

The quality of their management team, the continued progress of their team at home and in Europe — and the continuing loyalty of goal-machine Kane.

Verdict:

Tottenham need to break their wage structure and prove their ambition to take the next step. They are very close, but it could also collapse.

CHELSEA

What they need:

To pick the right manager to replace Antonio Conte. Don’t underestimate Chelsea’s ability to do that, because they have done it so many times before. A world-class striker and centre-half would make a difference, too.

Biggest priority:

Keeping Eden Hazard out of the hands of Real Madrid and persuading him he can still achieve his dreams at Stamford Bridge. Teams at the top these days need at least one magical, world-class player and Hazard is certainly that.

What fans fear:

That Roman Abramovich has lost his appetite for spending big in the transfer market, as Conte has hinted, and that Chelsea will be unable to compete with City and United in the hunt for the world’s best players.

Cause for optimism:

That the structure of the club has survived these kind of moments many times before — and that they already have the core of a very good team that has won the title before.

Verdict:

Chelsea, as always, are a mystery. There will be a new manager and new players, so how can you predict?

No doubt they will challenge, but it’s a big gap to close.

ARSENAL

What they need:

Everything depends on whether Arsene Wenger stays or not, who might replace him, and what his recruitment team delivers in the summer.

Biggest priority:

It’s been said every year, but surely a world-class centre-half and an inspirational central midfielder with leadership qualities. Not easy to find, of course. But most important to make a decision on the manager.

What fans fear:

That Arsene Wenger opts to stay, after winning the Europa League — and then delivers a deja-vu season in 2018-19, as an inconsistent Arsenal struggle to keep pace with the leaders.

Cause for optimism:

Recent recruitment and recent form have been good. There are signs that Arsenal are improving (although we have said that so often before, once the pressure of having to win the title is removed). Going forward, Arsenal look strong.

Verdict:

This is a watershed moment for Arsenal and it’s going to be fascinating to see where it leads them. But too early, whatever happens, for a title tilt.

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