The Season So Far
There has never been such a dominant Premier League season as this from Pep Guardiola’s supreme Manchester City. We now know that their coronation as champions is only a matter of time, but in truth it’s been ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ since around mid-September, when the awesomeness of their football became clear and the ease with which they swatted aside their supposed rivals set the standard they so unbelievably maintained until the last few weeks.
Despite their recent defeats, delaying their title party and ending this season’s Champions League push, it is unfair to reduce this to a team of high-end technical artistes led by a Bald Fraud, as their critics would have us believe, but one with the requisite amount of steel and resilience to make the jump from extraordinary to epochal. Such a jump is to be expected next season.
Pep Guardiola was brought to the Etihad precisely because he’s so evidently capable of producing this kind of total domination. Naysayers will point to the petrodollars and to the players he found in place at the club, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that question marks hung over basically everyone in this squad when Guardiola arrived, and many of his now vital additions were derided as overpriced or simply not up to scratch on their arrivals. Simply put: he’s a genius, the best manager in the world and possibly the best ever.
Likewise, this is easily the best Premier League team ever. A standout performer is hard to identify among a squad of players all having the season of their lives. David Silva, for years the Premier League’s best player and still the holder of that title, is maintaining his mastery of the midfield in his central role; Kevin De Bruyne has made a huge leap up to reach Silva’s level of domination and productivity; Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané have each become truly decisive from the wings; Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus never know which one of them will play, but whoever does always scores; defenders John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi, much maligned before the season’s start, have both been largely excellent and contributed vital goals earlier on in the campaign; goalkeeper Ederson, playing one of the most unique and demanding roles in football as Pep Guardiola’s sweeper-keeper, has barely put a foot wrong. Let’s not let three defeats in three cloud our judgement: this has been truly special.
The Season Ahead
Having produced the most dominant domestic season ever in English football, many are presenting a Premier League and League Cup double as some kind of underachievement. This is patently nonsense, but it’s also true that the biggest prize of all - the Champions League - has slipped through their fingers. With the current superpowers as they stand all in decline, however, the ascendency of Manchester City will surely result in a European Cup win sooner rather than later.
With six games remaining, City have the following Premier League records in their sights: most points; most goals; most wins; biggest winning margin; best goal difference. None of these matter as much as actually lifting the trophy, of course, but setting these records would underscore just how good this team is and further cement their all-timer status.
Everyone knows Guardiola’s game now: it’s a fluid, interchanging 4-3-3 with mesmerising positional interchange and immaculate technical use of the ball. Changes of shape are constant and unpredictable, but with tactical meddling only serving to undermine his team in recent weeks and hand the initiative to their opponents, we should really expect Guardiola to go back to Plan A here.
The big problem for Tottenham is that if Guardiola realises Plan A isn’t working or is actually exposing City to danger, he can switch to Plan B, Plan C, Plan D or even Plan E, and each of which would arguably be as good as his original idea. No other team in the league can do that at the moment. And let’s not talk about the quality on the bench.
Theirs is complete and utter domination: Manchester City have averaged the most possession of any Premier League side so far this season; they have the highest pass accuracy; the second most dribbles; the most shots; the most shots on target; the third most goals from set-pieces; the second most penalties given in their favour.
Although they almost never give the ball away, they’re nearly as good without the ball as they are with it: their pressing game is close to reaching the levels that Pep’s Barcelona and Bayern Munich sides managed and the results are there for all to see: they have allowed, by a distance, the fewest shots on their goal of any Premier League side so far this season and no-one else has played anywhere near as little football in their own half.
If nothing else works, they’ve got almost all of the best players in the Premier League, and one of them will score a late goal to win the game.
All of their success is down to Qatari wealth and the enforced misery of millions of people, which puts a significant dampener on things.
Apart from that, though, tiredness is the big issue now. Mistakes are being made at the back which weren’t happening earlier in the season, a large proportion of their players look jaded and slow to track back and, in the last three games at least, no-one has been anywhere near their best. If Spurs can bring more energy than City, they can make it four defeats from four.
Regardless of worries over form or fitness, we should expect all of the big guns. Editor’s note: this article was written prior to the news of Aguero and Stones’ injuries.