Manchester City: Pep Guardiola’s side lays claim to being Premier League’s greatest ever team
When all is said and done, it is looking increasingly likely that this iteration of Manchester City will go down as the greatest team in Premier League history.
With Arsenal suffering a shock 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest on Saturday, ending any mathematical probability of the north London team usurping Pep Guardiola’s side in the title race, Manchester City secured its fifth title in six years – only Manchester United, from 1995/96 to 2000/01, has achieved such a feat.
This was also City’s third consecutive title, again matching United as the only other team to win three in a row, with Alex Ferguson twice leading the club to a hattrick of titles.
But what makes this title all the more remarkable is the fact that City has also successfully juggled reaching the FA Cup final and Champions League final. Indeed, City reached the final of Europe’s premier cup competition in style, thrashing Real Madrid in the semifinals to move ever closer to winning one of the few trophies to so far elude the club.
With the Premier League wrapped up, City goes into those two finals – against Manchester United and Inter Milan respectively – as the overwhelming favorite to win both and become just the second team in English football history, after United in 1998/99, to win the ‘Treble.’
Under manager Guardiola, City has now won an incredible 10 major trophies since 2016 and has set numerous Premier League records over the years, including being the first team to reach 100 points, recording the biggest title-winning margin and the most wins in a single season.
But, despite all that success, no other City side has come so close to making history like this one.
There have been times this season when even opposition fans have been forced to sit back and admire the feast of football City has served up.
Even Arsenal – the second-best team in the country and whose early season performances had their fans thinking in January they would be celebrating winning the Premier League come the end of the season – were completely and utterly demolished at the Etihad on April 26, a 4-1 win that all but secured another title for City.
The favorite football cliché ‘men against boys’ would not even do justice to the difference in quality between the two sides that evening.
Though the season-ending table may eventually make this title triumph look like an easy one, for the large majority of the year that certainly was not the case.
Arsenal had been top of the league for 248 days of the season, the most in English top-flight history for a team which failed to win the title, according to statistics website Opta.
As recently as April, Arsenal boasted an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League but a combination of the young, inexperienced team’s inability to cope with the pressure and City’s relentless brilliance meant that advantage was wiped out emphatically. It is partly why this title win has been so impressive.
Surely, the inevitability of a City victory each week – spearheaded by the insatiable appetite for goals of new signing Erling Haaland – eventually took its toll on an Arsenal team that will have been constantly looking over its shoulder at the chasing juggernaut.
“Arsenal pushed us right to the limit, they’ve been fantastic, so all credit to them. We just went on an incredible run, they had a few hiccups, we capitalized on it and we’ve managed to end up where we have,” defender Kyle Walker told City’s website.
“It’s the players we’ve got. We’re a bunch of lads who have achieved so much over the last number of years and we understand the standards we’ve set.”
What will be most concerning to City’s Premier League rivals is that Pep Guardiola and his players show no signs of relenting.
Even the team’s veterans look far from losing their powers anytime soon; Kevin De Bruyne is just 31 and as brilliant as ever, İlkay Gündoğan – whose future remains up in the air – Riyad Mahrez and Walker are only 32 and remain as crucial as ever to Guardiola’s plans.
Remarkably, despite all the talk about City’s strength in depth, no team has used fewer players in the Premier League this season than City’s 23.
Then there is Guardiola himself, who after previously never spending more than four seasons at a club, citing burnout, is about to finish his seventh season in charge at the Etihad and looks and sounds as motivated as ever to continue, signing a contract extension until 2025 as recently as November.
Indeed, defender Rúben Dias recently called Guardiola the “main piece” of this City team.
“Obviously, the team is important and, in the end, it is the players that play on the pitch, but he is definitely the head of everything and we play the game through his eyes,” the Portuguese international told ManCity.com.
“He has won everything and he wants to continue to win. That hunger starts all over again every season – that’s his biggest quality.”
Dias also described the Champions League semifinal second-leg demolition of Real Madrid on Wednesday as “pretty close to perfection,” and this team is surely as close to perfect as any in the sport’s history.
For fans of opposition teams, however, City’s success comes with a caveat.
Back in February, the Premier League accused Manchester City of more than 100 breaches of the league’s finance rules and referred the club to an independent commission.
City, which was acquired by The Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, is accused of failing to provide accurate financial information in accordance with Premier League rules from the 2009/10 season until the 2017/18 campaign.
According to the league’s handbook, City could be suspended from the league, handed a points deduction or ordered to pay an unlimited fine if found guilty.
In a statement issued in February, City said it was “surprised by the issuing of these alleged breaches” and “welcomes the review of this matter by an independent Commission.”
Now though, according to the Times, the club is disputing the legality of the investigation and questioning the involvement of the Premier League’s leading barrister, Murray Rosen, who is a “member” of City’s title rival, Arsenal, according to his chambers’ website.
The Premier League told CNN it had no comment to make on the issue, while Rosen said he wasn’t taking press inquiries. CNN Sport has reached out to Manchester City.
Perhaps it is little more than a coincidence, but City has gone on a 23-game unbeaten run since those breaches were announced by the Premier League to move to the brink of a historic ‘Treble.’
Or, maybe, it was indeed a galvanizing factor at the club.
But while City’s future off the pitch remains unclear – sports lawyer Nick De Marco told the BBC in February that the case could take up to four years to resolve – on the pitch, City is as settled as ever and in prime position to continue this era of dominance.
Whether or not fans around the world will fully appreciate the on-the-pitch dominance and spectacle given the alleged off-the-field financial finagling is another question entirely.