Peerless Pep has peers in a panic

THE clinching goal was marginally offside, the pen was not stone-wall and the passing laser needed a scrub. There was even a smear of Teflon on the goalkeeper's gloves. But Manchester City were still playing a different game to the rest.

Watching them in possession, whether whisking the ball from their own six-yard box to the opposition half in nano seconds or weaving mazy patterns in a bewildering blur of light blue, it was as if the Fast Forward button had been pressed.

In short, they passed the a*se of Arsenal.

It was instinctive, one-touch and mesmerising. For Pep Guardiola's men there is no such thing as a 'hospital pass' – they hit it to colleagues surrounded by opponents and still expect them to find a teammate. When they invariably do it is their opponents who are calling the ambulance.

Sunday night told us that the title is not merely City's to lose but will require a Chernobylesque meltdown to stop them winning it. Compared to City's movement, the others hovered between leaden and statuesque.

Only Liverpool's Sadio Mane and Mo Salah displayed the same speed of thought and foot the night before. But at the Etihad Arsene Wenger did not just park the bus, he commandeered the MRT. And still couldn't stop them.

That Wenger, of all people, the patriarch of attacking football and lifelong disparager of negativity, should stoop to tactics that made Jose Mourinho look like Kevin Keegan tells us why City are shoo-ins. Just 11 games in, Pep has his rivals in a panic.

The eight-point gap is not insurmountable but the mind war has already been won. Of the Big Six managers only Mauricio Pochettino is yet to hoist the white flag. The rest know they can't live with City and have found themselves in turmoil off the field as well as on it.

Wenger is always two defeats away from a fan revolt and his claim that City only won because of refereeing decisions suggests that he should be sent to pasture. Outrageous even by the standards of this one-eyed gargoyle, it confirmed his status as the sorest loser of this or any age.

Meanwhile, Mourinho is making enemies where he needs to have friends. The bus is one thing, but picking fights with his own fans is unheard of at the Theatre of Dreams.

After saying he wants to stay for life, the Portuguese has fluttered his eyelashes at PSG. He is also falling out with players and, under pressure from the Spanish tax man, wants a massive pay rise to stay.

His row with Antonio Conte and claim that he's not getting the recognition he deserves smacks of the serial prima donna. Rattled doesn't even begin to describe the erstwhile Special One right now.

After all the talk of his "dream job", this season could become his worst nightmare if Pep, his old Barcelona bête noir, walks away with the spoils. In the same city.

Disarray is also apparent in the corridors of Stamford Bridge where Conte is so incredibly under-appreciated. And he, too, is falling out with big-name players, David Luiz being the latest on the list.

That only Slaven Bilic is at shorter odds than the Italian to be the next manager sacked is a measure of the impact Pep is having. Yes, he has spent a tad more than anyone else, but it is the improvement we are seeing – from both new recruits and old hands – that suggests he has regained his Midas touch.

And this was non-vintage City. Raheem Sterling reverted to the first touch of a wounded water buffalo in attempting to tee up Leroy Sane after missing the unmissable – on the goal line. Nicolas Otamendi had his moments and Ederson gave us a brief reminder of Claudio Bravo.

Pep said afterwards he was "amazed" that City were somehow keeping this electric start to the season going when it would be only human to have a blip. And last year's occurred around this time and lasted all season long.

This column did not spare the rod in criticising him then when he moaned about referees, fixture congestion and English football in general, but those who thought he might be a busted flush or perhaps not that brilliant anyway – just lucky in coaching great players – have to crawl into their caves and stay there.

He is quite simply taking the Premier League by storm and it is a joy to behold. It's not Barcelona yet – he doesn't have Messi – but the transition in play is actually quicker than Barca.

If City keep this up, Pep is everything he was cracked up to be: disciple of the great Johan Cruyff revolutionising the game and taking it to a whole new level.