Manchester City's defensive efforts shouldn't be ignored in red-hot start
In scoring so many goals so soon, Manchester City are in grave danger of leaving in their wake not only a trail of defenders with their legs irrevocably tied in knots, but also a phalanx of football writers floating face down in the water over their preseason analysis of City's leaky defence.
Let it be crystal clear that while the attack is performing its duties as clinically as Pep Guardiola had hoped, the defence -- that troublesome, untrustworthy body of half-men, half-walking-accidents-waiting-to-happen -- has let in just two goals all season. This despite the fact that it is frequently being left well exposed by the gung-ho movements of everyone else in the team, sliding forward en masse to get a piece of the action at the other end.
Add to that the absence of anchor and leader Vincent Kompany and there is good reason to offer fulsome praise for City's efforts at both ends of the operation.
City's oft-criticised backline has conceded just two Premier League goals so far this season, yet people continue to harp on about it being the side's Achilles' heel. The figure two in the goals against column matches Manchester United and is not bettered in the rest of the division. Thus, City not only have the best attack in the Premier League, they also possess the best defence.
Attack -- as an elite few managers, who believe in these free-flowing theories, have always told us -- is often the best form of defence, and City are strutting proof of this right now. One has to drift back to the 1958-59 season and the Blackburn Rovers side of Ronnie Clayton and Bryan Douglas to find the last team to score five or more in three consecutive league games. That was almost 60 years ago.
One might reasonably expect that such record will keep falling if this prodigiously talented squad can maintain its focus and fitness. Already injury concerns surrounding Kompany, the newly reintroduced (and now re-injured) Ilkay Gundogan and, just last weekend, Benjamin Mendy are starting to pose questions of the squad.
The second-half flurry against Palace, without the aid of Mendy's flashing runs up the left and teasing crosses, proved that City can adapt quickly to these setbacks, even within the time frame of a match if necessary. With such an array of attacking talent, it is natural that the defence's work will be overlooked by some, but the confidence of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi to play the new system that Guardiola is demanding this season is proving to be a perfect springboard to all City's attacking intent.
Without the fast reactions of Ederson and the calm influence of Danilo and Fernandinho, the defensive set-up might not work so well. How it copes against opposition prepared to push forward in greater numbers will be tested more at Stamford Bridge next weekend, but the evidence of the Liverpool match suggests it can cope. Put under early pressure by Mohamed Salah, Otamendi looked shaky but by the end, City had racked up their biggest win over Liverpool since 1937.
That is 70 years ago.
Clearly something special is on the move here. Records are falling in the opening weeks of the season that have stood for over half a century. City's scoring threatens to match the goal bonanza in Manuel Pellegrini's first season, when City scored four goals eight times, five goals five times and, incredibly, reached six on four separate occasions.
Moreover, it was not a case of crushing the also-rans; two of the sixes were notched against Tottenham and Arsenal, while one of the fives also came against Spurs at White Hart Lane and another in the Champions League against CSKA Moscow. The tendency has continued in the early weeks of this season, with the thrashing of supposed title rivals Liverpool, a 6-0 triumph away to a hitherto unbeaten Watford side and a four-goal thrashing of Feyenoord on their own patch. Encouragingly for City and dispiritingly for their opponents, these big wins are being administered to a variety of teams of varying calibres.
Although Guardiola's first year in charge was marked by the coach's first-ever blank season on the trophy front, goals were seldom an issue during 2016-17 either. In a mediocre return performance-wise, City still hit five past six different sides, including the fabulous 5-3 game with Monaco in the Champions League, probably the most memorable game of the season. That it eventually came to nothing, with City losing the away leg 1-3 and exiting the tournament, will remain a feature of the Catalan's first year in charge: plenty of pretty football but nothing to show for it.
If anything has changed, it's this. The goals are still flowing and the football on show still mesmerises, but there is real steel to this City side, coupled to real belief that this season can make up for all the disappointments of the last twelve months and deliver on multiple fronts.
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.