Is the Manchester City "Death Star" showing a weakness?
By Joe Harker
When the season started Manchester City were tipped to cruise to a third Premier League title, Liverpool running them close but not quite managing to sustain the challenge.
Instead, City are eight points below Liverpool after eight games and looking more vulnerable than they have for years.
For the past two seasons City have been the almost invincible team acknowledged as the best side in the Premier League, have they slipped from that position?
Guardian journalist Jonathan Wilson describes City as a Death Star, an all conquering machine constructed with great expense and expertise that has the power to destroy all before them but contains a fatal flaw to exploit.
He writes that the flaw with Pep Guardiola's team might be unavoidable and it might not, but this season Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers have beaten them in a similar way while Bournemouth almost pulled it off too.
Wilson identifies City's weakness as one with their defence, notably team that beat their press and run in behind them causing the defenders to have to turn around and face their own goal.
City play a high line so they can push further up the pitch, keeping the ball in their opponent's half and winning it back as close to the opposition goal as possible.
Teams that can break out of this, often with a simple ball over the top that a quick forward can get onto, have had some joy against City in recent weeks. Their defence doesn't seem to like doing actual defending, preferring instead to keep clean sheets by dominating the ball.
They are still an excellent side that on their day ought to be beating practically every other team in the league but multiple opponents threatening them with the same plan indicates that a weakness exists and other teams are aware of it.
If Bournemouth was the failed Death Star trench runs of Gold Squadron and Red Leader where they knew what to do but couldn't pull it off then the Norwich and Wolves victories were Luke Skywalker's successful attempt to get his photon torpedoes down the Death Star thermal exhaust port.
The Counter Claim:
However, City are saddled with serious defensive injuries as the nominal first choice centre back partnership of Aymeric Laporte and John Stones are unavailable at the moment.
Every team has injury problems but City are sorely missing two players in such a key position, particularly Laporte. He has been exceptional since his transfer to the Etihad and it's no surprise that the defence has come to rely on him.
If there is an issue then it perhaps lies not with Guardiola but with the club's recruitment. After former captain Vincent Kompany left the club during the summer the club had an interest in signing a new centre back but declined to enter the market for one.
City did want to buy England centre back Harry Maguire, but both they and rivals Manchester United were quoted a price of £80 million by Leicester City.
United eventually paid that amount while City stuck their nose in their air and denounced the high transfer fees of modern football, saying their own transfer budget wouldn't stretch that far despite being owned by an oil rich country.
They didn't even make a move for Tottenham Hotspur defender Toby Alderweireld, who had a release clause of £25 million for a portion of the summer transfer window. The club had cheaper options available if they really wanted to sign a defender.
Last season City won the Premier League drawing just twice and losing only four times throughout the campaign. This season they're already halfway to hitting those limits, having drawn once and lost twice in the opening eight games.
Guardiola has indicated he would walk away from City if things went wrong at the club, though their current situation isn't anywhere close to the sort of disaster that would prompt his departure.
Still it puts them in a disadvantageous position for winning the Premier League as they are already eight points down after eight games. The onus is on them to make up ground and they will be under pressure to beat Liverpool when the two sides meet in a month's time.