Thursday, June 13, 2024

Manchester City: Pep Guardiola turns City into Premier League’s great untouchables

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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.

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