Tuesday 13 November 2018

Could Man City become Pep Guardiola’s best team?

They remain in the hunt for four trophies but how much better can this team get, asks Mark Critchley

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola

Mark Critchley

“That is not going to happen. Of course not,” said Pep Guardiola on Tuesday night, having been asked whether this Manchester City side could achieve the unprecedented feat of a English football quadruple – Premier League, Champions League, FA and EFL Cup titles in a single season. “What we’re living isn’t real,” he insisted.

He is probably right, it probably is not going to happen, but the chances of it seem to increase with each consecutive victory. The questions around this apparently unstoppable team seem to have shifted from whether they will win this or that competition to just how good they are in a historical context: whether we are witnessing one of the great teams.

Almighty

It is hard to provide a definite answer to that question in December, but we can already say that it will take an almighty collapse for City not to be one of the great Premier League teams, at least.

You do not need to be a mathematician to calculate that with 52 points on the board already before the halfway mark, City are currently on course to break the 100-point barrier and surpass the record points total of 95, set by Jose Mourinho’s 2004-’05 Chelsea.

Mourinho had an additional reason to feel sore after City’s win against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday too, if the gap between them and Manchester United was not enough. The three points ensured that City will at least match the blistering start made by Mourinho’s second Chelsea title-winners, who took 52 points from the first half of the 2005-’06 season. As long they avoid defeat to Bournemouth at home on Saturday, City will better that. If we accept the six teams to have finished with more than 90 points in a single season are the six best in the Premier League’s history, this City side is outscoring all of them, in terms of both points and goals after 18 games. Put simply, as it stands, this is the best team the top flight has seen since its reconfiguration in 1992. It may yet even be Guardiola’s best team too.

His tenure at Barcelona peaked during the 2010-’11 campaign, which ended with a third consecutive La Liga title and victory in that year’s Champions League final at Wembley. That team is fairly hailed by some as the best ever, for its distinctive and influential style as much as its dominance of Spanish football.

To say this City side is comparable – at this stage of its development, with an empty honours list rather than one brimming with silverware – would be premature. It is a remarkable fact though that Guardiola’s current side is three points better off than his best side was in their best season seven years ago.

A surprise defeat to newly-promoted Hercules and a draw against Mallorca saw a Barcelona approaching their very best under Guardiola drop five points. City have dropped only two.

It should be noted that in his final season at Bayern, Guardiola matched his start during 2010-’11 with Barcelona only for his side to tail off in the second half of the campaign, though the announcement that January that he would be swapping the Allianz Arena for the Etihad perhaps had something to do with that.

Nevertheless, it is by no means a given that City will maintain this form. It is almost too good to be sustainable, hence why Guardiola has spent the last few weeks repeatedly saying this “is not real”.

Current

But with Bournemouth, Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Watford to come in their next four, the winning run could be carried for a while yet. A trip to Anfield in mid-January is the next fixture that looks even remotely challenging. The 11-point lead is more likely to expand than contract.

What we can say for certain is that no Premier League team has ever been this dominant this early on in the season and no Guardiola team, not even his best, has been so dominant at this stage of a campaign either. You can understand why City’s players seem to be celebrating every victory as if they have won the title because realistically, they have. Now, their job is to make history. (© Independent News Service)

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