HOW CA N THEY IMPROVE ON PERFECTION?
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.