The signs from the past bode well for Manchester City. For the third time, they will top the Premier League table on Christmas Day.
On the previous two, they went on to win the league: on goal difference in 2011-12 and by a massive 19 points in 2017-18. Now Sunday’s 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle has given them a three-point lead over Liverpool.
Riyad Mahrez, who was one of the scorers at St James’ Park, ignored the history lesson. “I don’t know [if it] is a good omen,” said the forward. “I don’t really believe in superstitions and these types of things. I just believe in winning games and trying to be there until the end.”
It is a mantra that has served City well during a sequence of eight straight league victories. “The numbers do not matter. We just have to win game after game,” said Mahrez.
Before those eight games, they were five points adrift of Chelsea. Now they are six ahead. More than most, City have experience of what extended winning runs can do. Last season’s winter surge of 15 successive triumphs in effect secured the title. “It is nice to know the numbers at the end, if we make a lot of wins,” the winger added.
Some other numbers ought to make for pleasant viewing for him. He has scored in his last three games and capitalised on a terrific cross from Oleksandr Zinchenko at Newcastle. “I had the feeling that I was onside because when I made the run I could see that I was level with the defender,” he said. He had initially been flagged offside, but VAR overturned the decision. His 50th City goal brought up another milestone.
Newcastle v Manchester City player ratings
Twenty goals a season used to be the mark of a high-class striker. Mahrez now has 20 in a calendar year for City when playing as a right winger; indeed, despite not playing at times. He has not been an automatic choice this season.
A goal every other game was another target for strikers: Mahrez has started 64 times for City in the Premier League and has 32 goals. This season, he is averaging a goal every 104 minutes in the Champions League and every 162 in the Premier League, figures plenty a centre forward would be proud of. He has only played 41 per cent of City’s top-flight minutes this season, in part because Gabriel Jesus has been in such fine form after moving to the right, in part because the other forward options include Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and Ferran Torres.
In a sense, however, Mahrez has become first among equals. City have 18 scorers this season, 10 with at least three, six with five or more, but his tally of 11 goals puts him four clear of anyone else.
He shrugged off his status as the top scorer. “As long as it helps the team to win things and to win games, that is the most important thing,” he said. But he has been foremost in a collective effort to compensate for the summer inability to sign Harry Kane. He has been clinical, with 11 goals from 28 shots on target, and 59 efforts, across the Premier League, Champions League and Carabao Cup.
Perhaps Joao Cancelo was his opposite. The full-back has been wonderfully creative but his first goal of the Premier League campaign belatedly came from his 39th shot. “Joao has a very good shot and when he arrives in that type of area he is very dangerous,” Mahrez said. But, in a cast of gifted players, the Algerian has proved the most dangerous in front of goal.