Former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards says that Liverpool are the only team capable of stopping Manchester City from claiming a third consecutive Premier League title.
City edged out Liverpool by a solitary point to clinch a third title in six years last season. Liverpool currently top the table with 12 points with City two points further back after four games of the 2019/20 season.
“To win the Premier League is always difficult but I can’t see City being challenged by any team other than Liverpool,” Richards told The National at Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday.
“Spurs [Tottenham] have weakened a little bit while Chelsea and Manchester United are going through transition periods. I see it as a two-horse race to be honest.”
Richards has a long connection with City, having spent 14 years on the clubs books as both a youth team and senior player from 2001.
Now a club ambassador, Richards is in the capital as part of the Manchester City's global Trophy Tour parading the trophies won by the men's and women's team's last season at locations across the city. Pep Guardiola's men's team made history last term with a clean sweep of domestic trophies, securing the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield, while the women's team won the Women’s FA Cup and the FA WSL Continental Cup.
Richards made his City debut as a 17-year-old in 2005 and was one of those to see first hand the transformation in the club's fortunes following Abu Dhabi United Group’s (ADUG) takeover in 2008.
“We were hoping for a takeover because the team had got a little bit stale,” Richards said.
“As players we get to know of the takeover the last, but when we heard it some players were happy and some probably not because they knew they would be replaced by better players. It was a mixed feeling but what it had done to the club has been amazing. Not only to the club but for the city itself, creating more employment opportunities.”
Manchester City's class of 2008
City’s first game after the takeover ended in a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on September 13, 2008.
“That wasn’t the ideal start for the new owners but we knew we would get better as the season went on,” Richards said.
“We had a good team then but now we have become a great team. We knew it would be difficult to win games straightaway because Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool were ahead of us at that time. We gave a good fight and got better every season.”
Richards was part of the squad which won the Premier League for the first time under the stewardship of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs in what is widely regarded as the most thrilling climax to any season.
With city rivals Manchester United having beaten Sunderland in their final game of the 2011/12 campaign, City looked set to miss out as they trailed Queens Park Rangers 2-1 in their final game as the match entered injury time.
Edin Dzeko equalised before Sergio Aguero scored the winning goal with virtually the last kick of the season to clinch City's first top-flight tile for 44 years. “It was an unbelievable day. It still swivels down the spine, when you think of it," Richards recalled.
City won their first silverware under the ADUG banner the previous season, when Richards was in the side that beat Stoke City to win the the FA Cup. Richards said there was a lot of pressure on the players to deliver a first trophy for the owners.
“It was amazing to win the first silverware for the United Group,” he said. "The game was only 1-0. We didn’t play a great game but at the end of the day we won the cup, that’s what mattered most.
“It was such an emotional day with fans in the stand crying and stuff like that. It was first of many.”
Robinho become the first marque signing of the Abu Dhabi era, with this week marking the 10-year anniversary of the Brazilian joining for a then club record of £32.5 million (Dh147m).
“We couldn’t believe he was coming from Real Madrid,” said Richards. “It was massive for him, but that put us as players to acknowledge we are in real business. It was a very good moment.”