Home Sports Guardiola turns Man City into PL’s great untouchables

Guardiola turns Man City into PL’s great untouchables

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Manchester City’s domination of the domestic game is now so all-consuming that a historic fourth successive Premier League title is treated like an inevitable matter of routine.

City went into the final game of the season ahead for the sixth time in seven seasons needing only a win over West Ham United to lift the crown once more – and they duly delivered.

In doing so, Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering team once again proved they are the great untouchables of the Premier League.

They appear impervious to normal pressures – and the fact they have rewritten the record books will barely provoke excessive comment or deep-dive analysis. It was expected. The seismic shock would have been failure to complete their mission.

It is a stretch to say Manchester City have become so aligned with success that these unprecedented feats are met with a shrug of the shoulders, but the fact they have won 19 and drawn four of 23 league games since losing at Aston Villa in December has surprised very few.

This is where the elephant in the room must be mentioned because every City success will be accompanied by the narrative that they still face 115 Premier League charges for alleged financial irregularities – charges the club are at pains to stress they strenuously deny.

It is 15 months since those charges were levelled at the club. Unless and until there is clarity and a verdict, City will always be subjected to this outside noise and suspicion every time they win a trophy.

If the measure is football, however, there are no arguments.

Liverpool managed to overcome them in a 2019-20 season interrupted by the Covid pandemic, Jurgen Klopp’s outstanding side prevailing with a mammoth 18-point margin, taking the title back to Anfield for the first time in 30 years.

In those other years, Liverpool and, in the past two seasons, Arsenal have reached out but not quite been able to lay the decisive blow on this peerless, magnificent football machine.

Liverpool under Klopp have been outstanding but not outstanding enough. The same now applies to Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal.

City’s trademark end-of-season surge – the type of which broke Arsenal hearts as it did Liverpool’s before them – is now simply akin to muscle memory kicking in.

They denied Liverpool twice on the final day of the season, winning 4-1 at Brighton to win the title by one point in 2018-19 then, amid stunning drama and scenes of near hysteria, came from 2-0 down with 14 minutes left to beat Aston Villa in 2021-22 to pip Klopp’s side by a single point.

If this was a habit started by predecessors Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini in 2011-12 and 2013-14 respectively, Guardiola and his players have perfected it to something resembling normal service.

City’s team is sprinkled with world-class talent in all areas, from the lethal marksmanship of Erling Haaland to creator supreme Kevin de Bruyne, both now joined in that bracket by Phil Foden, with 27 goals from midfield this season.

De Bruyne and Haaland both suffered lengthy injury absences this season – in particular the Belgian, who required hamstring surgery after the first league game at Burnley – but if the big hitters needed assistance it was always there.

Josko Gvardiol was signed from RB Leipzig in a £77m deal with a reputation as a future great central defender after his performances for Croatia in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He has since been deployed as a left-back and left wing-back with a goalscoring instinct, as shown with two in the 4-0 win at Fulham and another in the victory at Nottingham Forest.

And when Ederson has been missing in goal, Stefan Ortega has impressed to such an extent that his astonishing cameo in the 2-0 win at Tottenham that left City one win from glory will be reflected upon as a title-winning contribution.

Son Heung-min looked certain to score and perhaps give Arsenal the initiative in the title race as he closed in with only Ortega to beat. The keeper’s extended right leg saved City – the importance of the moment illustrated as Guardiola threw himself flat on his back in the technical area in relief, advancing on to the pitch at the final whistle to plant a kiss on Ortega’s cheek.

This was an all-for-one and one-for-all title win.

City’s summer 2023 recruitment has yet to bear full fruit – with Jeremy Doku a raw material and Matheus Nunes yet to flourish after a £53m move from Wolves – and there have been times when they have looked more vulnerable than usual over the course of the season – but look who are champions again, as the song belted out by their supporters says.

Above all, it is the manner in which Guardiola’s players have once again been able to cope with the finest margins of the title race without blinking while applying psychological pressure to rivals who know just one slip will prove costly.

In 2018-19, City put together a sequence of 14 straight wins to pip Liverpool. Klopp’s side got 97 points and only lost one game – to the eventual champions – but it was still not enough. It was a similar margin in 2021-22.

City’s roll this season took Arsenal down, even though the race went to the final game – Arsenal’s one slip in the run-in being a 2-0 home defeat by Aston Villa. Give this City side an inch, and a mile is the very least they will take.

Guardiola’s team are gloriously gifted and have a mental steel to withstand the pinch points from the season, capable of long runs to the finishing line that are simply beyond those wishing to unseat them.

The bad news for the likes of Arsenal – so close for the past two seasons – and Liverpool as they enter the Arne Slot era is City’s insatiable desire for trophies has not been satisfied by constant success. It is as sharp as ever, which could give them a third domestic league and FA Cup double if they beat Manchester United in a repeat of last season’s final at Wembley.

Manchester City may not have been able to repeat last season’s piece of history when they became only the second English club to win the Treble of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup but this campaign has reaffirmed their status as the major power in the English game.

bbc

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