LIVERPOOL, England -- For about half an hour at Goodison Park, it felt like there might be life in this Premier League title race yet. Instead, Manchester City are 10 points clear at the top after a 3-1 win over Everton on Wednesday, their 17th consecutive win in all competitions and 12th in the league. They will take some catching from here, and that's if anyone actually believes they can.
Jurgen Klopp has already conceded the title. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Manchester United were never really in the running anyway. Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, has been at pains to stress it is too early to start crowning champions, but it is becoming harder and harder to believe him.
In the buildup, Guardiola said his team will drop points between now and the end of the season, and for 26 minutes here it looked like he might be immediately proved right when Richarlison's bizarre equaliser cancelled out Phil Foden's opener. City began to miss chances and Guardiola's frustration on the touchline became more and more apparent and it started to feel like one of those days when things just don't go your way.
But City haven't had one of those days for a while, and there was an inevitability about Riyad Mahrez cutting in from the right to curl a second goal into the corner. Bernardo Silva didn't even give Everton the courtesy of a tense finish by adding a third late on.
"A real tough game, pitch in not-perfect condition in winter and they are so physical, but a solid performance, the guys run the way we have to do and three points," Guardiola said. "This team (Everton) scored three at Old Trafford and five against Spurs and a team that can create chances."
Despite Guardiola's enthusiasm for Everton, they were well beaten and City were particularly dominant after half-time. Carlo Ancelotti was asked afterward whether they had lost to the champions before answering: "I think so -- it is really difficult to say another name." It is hard to argue with his assessment.
Games in January and February are meant to separate the contenders from the pretenders, and it says everything about City's credentials that they have become the first team in top-flight history to win their opening 10 matches of a calendar year. In that spell, they have won convincingly at Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton and beaten Tottenham Hotspur at home. They have scored 28 times and conceded just three. On top of that, they have done most of it without their best player, Kevin De Bruyne, and their best striker, Sergio Aguero.
Just to rub it in a bit more, De Bruyne made his comeback after seven games out, coming off the bench to play the final 10 minutes at Goodison Park. It won't be long before Aguero is back, too, but while the Argentinian was named on the bench, he wasn't needed.
"Kevin and Sergio are back," said Guardiola afterward. "It is incredible news." The rest of the Premier League will no doubt disagree.
Ancelotti tried to rally his troops before kickoff, writing in his programme notes that City "have to lose in the end," but it's difficult to see where that might happen. Games against Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton in February were meant to comprise their tricky run, but they have taken nine points from nine by an aggregate score of 10-1 -- all without De Bruyne.
Arsenal have the chance to end the run at the Emirates on Sunday, but City were there in the Carabao Cup in December and won 4-1. They haven't been beaten since November and haven't been behind for a single minute in any of their past 16 league games. All the best, Mikel Arteta.
When Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Leicester City and Southampton were taking turns at the top, it was being billed as the most exciting title race in years, but there are still 14 games left and it already feels like a procession. Newcastle United in 1995-96 and Manchester United in 1997-1998 are the only teams in Premier League history to open up a 10-point lead and fail to win the title.
For now, though, Guardiola is continuing to play it straight.
"When you win a lot of games, everyone wants to beat you and it is tricky," he said. "I have not seen that the team is thinking of the table -- we have spoken about that. We are not here to defend our lead -- it is all about three points, three points.
"There are 42 points still to fight for; we are in the middle of February. Now we rest for a few days, there are so many games. Arsenal next, that is for sure."