Pep’s In­vin­ci­bles?

Manch­ester City’s record-break­ing start faces test against Wenger’s Arse­nal

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS - By Jonathan White

Manch­ester City go into the week­end as the only un­de­feated team left in the coun­try – the other side to have re­mained un­beaten across the four pro­fes­sional di­vi­sions of in Eng­land, Shrews­bury Town, sur­ren­dered their 15-game run in de­feat to Peter­bro­r­ough last week­end – and some are begin­ning to won­der if it is too early to sug­gest that they can match Pre­ston North End in 1888-89 and Arse­nal in 2003-04 by go­ing the whole sea­son with­out los­ing.

So far City have played 10 Pre­mier League games, win­ning nine of them. They sit five points ahead of city ri­vals Manch­ester United at the top of the league and can ex­tend that to eight points by the time United kick off their game on Sun­day af­ter­noon – City host Arse­nal at the Eti­had sta­dium in the 2:15 pm kick­off while United travel to Stam­ford Bridge and don’t face the cham­pi­ons Chelsea un­til 4:30 pm.

Pres­sure

An eight-point lead would put the pres­sure on Jose Mour­inho’s side as the Por­tuguese re­turns to his former club. In Oc­to­ber 2016, on his first re­turn since leav­ing Chelsea for a sec­ond time and his first visit as Manch­ester United man­ager, Mour­inho’s team lost 4-0 to the even­tual cham­pi­ons. He’s not alone in the United dugout in strug­gling at Stam­ford Bridge – Sir Alex Fer­gu­son was the last United man­ager to master­mind an away win for United back in Oc­to­ber 2012.

City won’t be too con­cerned what­ever the re­sult at Stam­ford Bridge. As­sum­ing that they win their own game against Arse­nal then a United win merely main­tains the dis­tance in the rear-view mir­ror, any­thing other than that will be a bonus. City go into the game nine points clear of both fourth-placed Chelsea and fifth-placed Arse­nal and losses for ei­ther means that they fall fur­ther back be­hind City.

Pedi­gree

Even if City only main­tain their five-point lead that would be the third-largest at this stage of a Pre­mier League sea­son be­hind Chelsea’s nine-point gap in the 2005-06 sea­son – they went on to win the ti­tle by eight points – and Manch­ester United’s seven-point lead in 1993-94 – they went on to win the league by nine points. The only other team to have had a five-point lead? City in 2011-12. They had won 10 and drawn the other of their first 11 matches, and went on to win the ti­tle, pip­ping Manch­ester United on goal dif­fer­ence.

Af­ter Liver­pool’s ca­pit­u­la­tion on their visit to the Eti­had back in Septem­ber, Arse­nal pose ar­guably the big­gest test of the sea­son for this City side, at least in terms of the Pre­mier League. No mat­ter. City have just come off back-to-back Cham­pi­ons League wins over this sea­son’s Serie A lead­ers Napoli – win­ning 2-1 at home a fort­night ago and then trav­el­ing to the Sta­dio San Paolo in mid­week and re­turn­ing with a 4-2 win and qual­i­fi­ca­tion to the group stages.

Noth­ing to fear

They have no rea­son to fear any­one, let alone Arse­nal, be­cause City come into this game in im­pe­ri­ous form. In fact, the Napoli win was the club’s 22nd game in a row with­out a de­feat, a new club record and one that shows no signs of be­ing cut short at the mo­ment. City have not had it quite all their own way this sea­son: They la­bored to a 1-1 home draw with Ever­ton and then needed a 97th-minute Ra­heem Ster­ling win­ner to see off Bournemouth. But that match on the south coast was the last time that City had been be­hind in a game un­til Dries Mertens opened the scor­ing in Italy on Wed­nes­day night. Sta­tis­ti­cally they are im­pres­sive. Lead­ing the league for goals and a goal dif­fer­ence of plus-29 af­ter 10 games. In the Pre­mier League this sea­son they have twice scored five in a game, scor­ing six away to Wat­ford and putting seven past Stoke City at home. This is the most that a Pep Guardi­ola team has ever scored in their first 10 league games of a sea­son, with City’s 35 goals one more than the 34 that Barcelona scored dur­ing his first sea­son in charge at the Camp Nou in 2008-09. Guardi­ola’s side ended the sea­son by se­cur­ing the club’s first-ever tre­ble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Cham­pi­ons League. It should also be noted that Barcelona started the sea­son off with a league de­feat.

Sta­bil­ity

In ad­di­tion to blow­ing away club records and Guardi­ola’s past achieve­ments, they have swat­ted away every chal­lenge that they have faced this sea­son, and de­spite the free-scor­ing soccer – which has been dis­missed by some as a New­cas­tle United-un­der-Kee­gan, you-score-three-we’ll-score-four men­tal­ity that will soon come un­stuck – City have shored up their de­fense. Af­ter 10 games last sea­son they had con­ceded nine goals, and in this sea­son it has been just six in the same pe­riod, with six clean sheets. They look set to im­prove on last sea­son, when they al­lowed more than a goal a game in the Pre­mier League. Last week­end’s win against West Bromwich Al­bion – their fifth away win of the sea­son, another club record – saw City set a Pre­mier League record for passes, the high­est since Opta records be­gan in 2003 but Guardi­ola, ever the per­fec­tion­ist, still talks in terms of room for im­prove­ment from his play­ers. No won­der the pun­dits and even his fel­low man­agers are talk­ing of his side as cham­pi­ons. Jur­gen Klopp sug­gested City might even win the league in Jan­uary. Guardi­ola dis­missed that talk, just as he said that his team fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Arse­nal’s 2003-04 In­vin­ci­bles and go­ing un­beaten was “not go­ing to hap­pen.” He says he will take it as nor­mal, one game at a time. But the fact is his side are bet­ter off than the In­vin­ci­bles at the same stage of the sea­son and if he can beat this sea­son’s Arse­nal on Sun­day, the whis­pers of “what if?” will be­come louder.

Photo: VCG

Leroy Sane of Manch­ester City cel­e­brates af­ter scor­ing against West Bromwich Al­bion dur­ing their Pre­mier League match on Oc­to­ber 28 in West Bromwich, Eng­land.

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