Manchester City are boring their way to the title as Premier League also-rans struggle to keep up

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If Manchester City retain the Premier League title, the signs are they will have done it the boring way.

Sunday’s win at Crystal Palace — beyond a nine-minute spell after Luka Milivojevic’s clever free kick to make it 2-1 — was not a contest. And that has become a consistent theme.

If you seek drama and tension, or perhaps simply to be moved by football, City’s Premier League games are probably not for you. They are exhibitions of control and it is difficult, when they perform with this kind of clarity, to see them falling short in the title race.

For its vast majority, Sunday’s 3-1 win was almost identical to City’s two previous away trips in the league, against Fulham and Bournemouth. Both of those matches were stultifying. City did not concede a goal-scoring chance in either, while making sure they did enough at the other end. Crystal Palace — a punchy and pugnacious side at their best, and shock winners at the Etihad in December — barely put up a fight here until that brief late rally. They showed no intention of taking any initiative, and City exerted a level of domination that suffocated the game as a spectacle.8

It was, for those who care about the league’s health, little fun to watch, and the frequency with which games of this ilk are coming about is a concern. Not for Guardiola, though. Since Jan. 20, City have only won one Premier League game — the 6-0 humiliation of Chelsea — by more than two goals.

Nobody should kid themselves they are being dragged into tight, edgy contests, though. The intensity of their schedule, and the carrot of a Quadruple, means it makes no sense to go hell for leather when there is little need. Three days before a potentially season-defining Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Tottenham, with Guardiola’s men trailing 1-0 in the tie, City were able to keep the title race in their own hands without going through the gears.

“I’m so pleased,” Guardiola said. “We have to win every game if we want to make back-to-back titles, we know that, and the players have shown they want to do it. No doubts.”

Even if this was not a gripping contest, City still conjured up moments no other side in the country can. Raheem Sterling’s two goals, both excellently taken, bear rewatching, and Kevin De Bruyne is showing signs of returning to his exhilarating best. There was a risk that City might suffer in midfield given that Fernandinho missed out with a minor injury, but De Bruyne covered every blade of grass. That is some boost at this stage of the campaign, and Guardiola was effusive in his praise of a player who, even in such a richly talented squad, noticeably raises City’s level when on song.