This is not the only conceptual change he inspired. When Manchester City entered this season without a recognized center-forward, it was seen not as madness but as a bold, albeit slightly risky, call; playing with a three fluid forehead is no longer anathema. The idea that full-backs can switch places with midfielders and serve as playmakers has also been internalized and emulated. He ushered in an era of open-mindedness in which, yes, in fact, maybe goalkeepers could take penalties.
Its statistical impact has been as great as its stylistic impact. Guardiola, just like he did in Spain and Germany, has changed what it takes to be champion. Placed in charge of the most lavish sporting project ever envisioned – well, joint – and given the control of a club that could afford to establish themselves as best-in-class in almost everything he does, Guardiola has shattered our conception of the possible.
It’s no surprise that the four highest point totals in English history came during Guardiola’s time: two of them for Manchester City and two for Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp, the only side that could , for a while, keep pace. A fifth is at hand this year. Each of Guardiola’s winning seasons at City has included an impossible streak of winning streak or unbeaten games.
How much of it depends on him and the money he has is an ongoing debate, although in his favor is the fact that he did the exact same thing in Spain: just as he credited the challenge for Liverpool for pushing their team to new heights, there is no doubt that the need to overtake Barcelona inspired Real Madrid to claim 100 points in 2012.
Either way, it has become clear that even in order to approach Guardiola’s Manchester City, a rival has to be nearly perfect. This did not happen this year. Liverpool lost ground over Christmas and New Years, some honorable draws and a disheartening loss to a weakened Leicester City, throwing Klopp’s side adrift. Chelsea, if they lose to City on Saturday, will suffer the same fate after a stuttering and stumbling winter.
It can have consequences. If, as seems likely, City do win the league in the next few months, Liverpool and Chelsea will have their flaws set aside, their vulnerabilities exposed and their flaws uncovered. Players could find their place in the threatened team or their reputation diminished. It’s not entirely impossible that Blues manager Thomas Tuchel, at least, could even find his job in jeopardy if Chelsea end the season 10 or 15 points behind.