Guardiola has put Man City on English football's top table – only Ferguson's Man Utd have dominated Premier League more
THREE titles in four years is an achievement which propels Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City into the highest echelon of English club sides.
Only Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Bob Paisley’s Liverpool have dominated our domestic football to a greater extent since the Second World War.
Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, Don Revie’s Leeds and Sir Matt Busby’s United never managed such a feat.
And this after Guardiola had appeared burnt out and beaten little more than six months ago — the pandemic having taken a huge personal and professional toll on the Catalan.
City need a European Cup or two to fully cement their place in history.
But this has been a very different title success than either of Guardiola’s previous two.
City will end up with significantly fewer points, almost certainly with fewer goals and they possess none of the top-flight’s nine leading scorers.
But this has been a title-winning campaign like no other — no pre-season, no established centre-forward, no supporters inside the Etihad and a panicked attempt to join that swiftly derailed European Super League train.
Eight different clubs led the table before Pep’s men first reached the summit.
But once they seized it, they never relinquished it.
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It was the year of the unlikely lads — Ilkay Gundogan as top scorer, new recruit Ruben Dias and a reborn John Stones formidable in central defence and the free-wheeling full-back Joao Cancelo a glowing testimony to Guardiola’s total-football roots.
Gundogan is a fine player but for 4½ seasons the German midfielder has rarely been essential to City.
Yet his purple patch of 11 goals in 12 games between mid-December and mid- February transformed this campaign.
Still, City’s man of the season has surely been Dias. Few players have arrived in English football and had such an instant and telling impact — especially one as young as this Portuguese with a physical stature and a footballing brain which belies his 23 years.
Last season, Aymeric Laporte’s lengthy injury was given as a chief reason as to why City could not even get close to Liverpool.
This season, Laporte has not been a first-choice starter, so impressive is the partnership between Dias and Stones.
For the previous two years, Stones had been shot of confidence and suffering a personal crisis. Now he is England’s premier central-defender once more.
And Cancelo has been redesigning heat maps for full-backs — he is here, there, everywhere — an elusive sky-blue pimpernel.
Phil Foden has continued his progression towards world-class status, not least with his starring role in the key 4-1 thumping of Liverpool at Anfield in February.
But the Mancunian ‘one of their own’ has started fewer than half of the club’s Premier League fixtures.
City’s Abu Dhabi riches ensure they have the deepest squad in the Premier League but Guardiola has still managed it masterfully.
Dream Team managers refer to ‘Pep roulette’ but the unique challenges of this season have elevated squad rotation into an art form.
Not so long ago, many of us wondered whether Guardiola had the energy for such a complex challenge.
His mother died in the first wave of Covid and when City returned for Project Restart last June, they were beaten by inferior sides, in Arsenal and Lyon, to end last season without the FA Cup or Champions League and 18 points behind Liverpool.
Yet Guardiola quashed doubts over his own future — doubts which existed inside the club as well as outside — by signing a new contract in November.
MOST TOP-FLIGHT TITLES
MOST Premier League and First Division titles
Man Utd – 20
Liverpool – 19
Arsenal – 13
Everton – 9
Aston Villa – 7
MAN CITY – 7
A few weeks later, after a 1-1 home draw with West Brom, City were still stuck in mid-table, defensively solid but unrecognisable as an attacking force.
Guardiola held crisis talks after that match and City embarked upon a 21-match winning streak in all competitions — an extraordinary feat in any season, let alone such a remorseless one as this.
After Covid swept through City’s squad between Christmas and New Year, causing the postponement of their visit to Everton, the true City turned up at Stamford Bridge.
Despite missing several key players, they swept into a three-goal lead inside 34 minutes, sending Abramovich into sacking mode and giving City’s players the belief the title was theirs for the reclaiming.
For a while it seemed the Quadruple might really be on, until City were deservedly beaten in the FA Cup semi- final by a Chelsea side vastly improved under Thomas Tuchel.
One by one, the kingpins of their original title-winning side have departed — Vinny Kompany, David Silva and now Sergio Aguero, whose brilliant strike at Crystal Palace on May 1 was his first Premier League goal from open play for more than 15 months.
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Should City sign Erling Haaland, or perhaps even Harry Kane, to replace the Argentine, they will begin next season as white-hot favourites.
They have not been at their most dominant, their most devastating or their most watchable.
But in terms of stamina, strength in adversity and managerial brainpower, this has been a truly impressive campaign.
PEP’S TITLE-WINNING SEASONS AT CITY
GOALS SCORED PER GAME
GOALS CONCEDED PER GAME
PASSES PER GAME
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