Guardiola fuels talk of unbelievable City quadruple - almost
Pep's men hit groove as unprecedented feat looms into view
Pep Guardiola once again tried to dampen excitable talk about a quadruple, but this time there was a highly significant caveat. The Manchester City manager would only say it's "almost impossible", before repeating himself: "Almost."
"Put it in the headlines," he insisted, before again going on to explain the many reasons why it's so difficult.
But it might not read how he intends. The sight of those big bold words only reflect something else: that it's in City's sights. How couldn't it be? They're now within 90 minutes of a second trophy this season, within seven games of a historically unprecedented domestic treble, and it just feels like every step is being taken. And in a notably smooth manner.
Their 1-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Brighton was yet another stroll - if, admittedly with the odd sprint - that you would idealise at this stage of any season, let alone at the start of an April as testing as this.
Guardiola described it as a "miracle" his players have even stayed in contention this long.
That isn't quite true, and that's even before you get to the fact they're the most lavishly funded state project in the whole history of football, or that two teams in recent history have gone further.
Chelsea were still mathematically capable of winning a quadruple until May 1 in 2007, only to end up with both domestic cups; Manchester United until April 19 in 2009, only to end up with the League Cup and Premier League.
City's challenge for the (almost) impossible will now at least go until April 17 and the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Tottenham Hotspur, but the players obviously have their sights set on much further.
There's no 'taking each game as it comes' there, at least in terms of ambition. The City squad do not think this is a miracle.
By contrast, sources close to the camp say they fully believe they are good enough to win it all; that there's a real confidence and assertiveness running through the team.
As such, and as is most relevant, there is also a real calm.
This is all the more significant in the context of the glorious drama that is propelling this title race, and the constant talk of how one of the title challengers will respond to what the other is doing.
The feeling around Liverpool after their 3-1 win over Southampton was - understandably - that it would again give City cause for thought, that it might disrupt some of their momentum. Not a bit of it.
City are genuinely at the point where they're so sure of their own quality that this isn't is a line: what anyone else does doesn't concern them. They feel they can go the distance. They know there's no requirement to rely on favours right now.
Guardiola did concede this, to some extent, when asked whether Liverpool's ability to keep defiantly pulling out results affects City in any way.
"Zero. I think maybe for them it is better; but, for us, zero. I know Liverpool is going to win all the games. What happened is what happened. So to be champions we have to win all the games."
But, again, they feel they can do that. And, again, how could they not? Because there's not much bothering this squad at all right now. It's only being bolstered. Consider everything going their way right now.
Almost every match is going their way, as they win so many games at walking pace, cushioned by the early goals they've become so adept at scoring. That allows the conservation of a lot of energy for this exacting period.
There's then the fact that, for the first time this season, they are fully fit - particularly in midfield. Benjamin Mendy is back and so, on the evidence of the semi-final, is Kevin De Bruyne's finest form.
That is quite a weapon to just throw in at this point, to go with this supreme form.
Little wonder there's little to no focus on what Liverpool or anyone else are doing. City feel they can just motor through this.
The players really don't think this is impossible. And neither, despite his caveats, does Guardiola.
It's almost impossible, sure.
But it's also almost fully in sight. (© Independent News Service)
Independent News Service