Australian Four Four Two - - PREMIER LEAGUE -

Iden­ti­fy­ing ar­eas in which Manch­ester City can get bet­ter feels like telling Al­bert Ein­stein to brush his hair if he wants to fit in at the physics depart­ment. Who are we to make sug­ges­tions? Fans of Ar­se­nal’s In­vin­ci­bles or Manch­ester United’s Tre­ble-win­ners might dis­pute it, but last sea­son Manch­ester City were ar­guably the finest foot­ball team to grace the Pre­mier League in its 26-year his­tory.

Raw stats tilt the de­bate in their favour. A hat­ful of sin­gle-sea­son records were bro­ken, in­clud­ing widest ti­tle-win­ning mar­gin (19 points), most goals scored (106), best goal dif­fer­ence (+79), most wins (32), most away wins (16) and the big one: be­com­ing the first team in English top-flight his­tory to reach 100 points. Other records hint at just how City did it: the high­est pos­ses­sion av­er­age since such things were mea­sured (71 per cent), and most passes in a sea­son (28,241).

But it was the aes­thetic de­light they served up while do­ing it that’s re­ally the clincher. This was the unit that Pep Guardi­ola’s ar­rival in Eng­land promised to de­liver: bru­tally ef­fec­tive, but be­witch­ing to ob­serve. Sure, the crit­ics pointed to­wards City’s cheque­book, and claimed that hav­ing the finest foot­ballers in the world in most po­si­tions makes it ef­fort­less to both win and en­ter­tain. How­ever, while that cer­tainly helps, such crit­ics would be daft to dis­count the Pep fac­tor. The Cata­lan coach im­proves play­ers and blends teams mas­ter­fully.

Just re­peat­ing 2017-18’s foot­balling ban­quet would be an out­stand­ing achieve­ment. But Guardi­ola wants to eclipse it and, with funds at his dis­posal, even­tu­ally cre­ate a mas­ter­piece to sur­pass the one he cre­ated in Barcelona. Break­ing City’s trans­fer record to buy Riyad Mahrez for $110m is an­other state­ment of in­tent. Their main fail­ing was in the Cham­pi­ons League, where City im­pressed be­fore en­coun­ter­ing a Liver­pool out­fit pos­sessed by a sense of des­tiny.

There was no way back from trail­ing 3-0 early in the first leg. It would be easy to write off the quar­ter-fi­nal de­feat as a freak in­ci­dent – a sea­son of labour, gone in half an hour – but Jur­gen Klopp showed that Pep’s gang could ac­tu­ally be bul­lied by a side both bril­liant and brave. It’s a rid­dle Guardi­ola will rel­ish solv­ing: how to find a way to out­wit the top Euro­pean sides that have a go at them, while main­tain­ing their abil­ity to de­mol­ish small fry as a mat­ter of course. Over to you, Ein­stein.

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