City target immortality – will it be as easy as 1, 2, 3?
Less than 48 hours after arguably the finest 45 minutes in the 129-year history of Manchester City, Pep Guardiola was bang on the money with his priorities.
When the half time whistle blew on Wednesday night a marauding City were mauling Champions League royalty, Real Madrid, like never before. Not only were they 2-0 up, courtesy of a Bernardo brace in an electrifying Etihad atmosphere, they’d completed 325 passes, launched 43 attacks, rained 13 shots on Thibaut Courtois’ goal and had 71% possession of the ball.
In contrast the 14-time European champions had mustered just three attacks, a solitary shot at Ederson and completed less than a third of the passes of City slickers.
The second half was a more measured affair, but a cool and controlled City were never going to allow a re-run of last season’s nightmare in the Santiago Bernabeu.
Guardiola used having to “swallow the poison” of the sickening 3-1 semi final defeat – when City contrived to let a 5-3 aggregate advantage disappear in added time – as a primary motivation for his players.
Revenge is supposed to be a dish best served cold – City clearly didn’t get the memo – as two further goals from Manu Akanji and Julian Alvarez capped a sizzling portion of pure football delight. The frenetic, frenzied but always, fantastic play was matched only by the ferocious, feverish, fanaticism of the City fans.
Spain’s biggest daily sports outlet – MARCA – is a propagandist mouthpiece for Real Madrid, one not given to complimenting those who beat their beloved ‘Los Blancos’. In the aftermath of Real’s 4-0 drubbing, MARCA commented:
‘One might think that being a team built with a chequebook, City have papier mache fans. It is not like this...the Etihad atmosphere was possibly the harshest Madrid had encountered in many years. A complete trap.’
Delivered through gritted teeth, with unintended irony about City’s transfer spending, it was nonetheless, an unmistakable acknowledgment of approval to the 50,000+ ‘empty seats at home’.
Of course the City fans still boo the pompous Champions League ‘anthem’, they still hate the corruption, hypocrisy and anti-City bias of UEFA and still bear a certain contempt for the ‘showpiece’ tournament.
That said, there’s few – if any – City supporters who don’t want to win the damn thing, if only to stop the malicious and misguided souls who delight in City’s supposed shortcomings in Europe.
Set against the backdrop of such a wondrous Wednesday night, it would be easy to believe that many had been seduced by the prospect of being crowned as Champions of Europe – and why not?
As Pep finally allowed himself to speak publically about the possibility of a Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble, he switched from European glory to domestic matters, reinforcing the time honoured belief of the fans.
Maintaining the perspective he’s always had since coming to the Etihad in 2016, he said: “On Sunday, the game is in our hands to win the most important competition – the Premier League is the most important because for 11 months it’s every week.”
Well now City have won their third consecutive Premier League title – five out of the last six – an incredible achievement for the club, but even more so for Pep.
He becomes the first manager to win three top tier titles on the spin in three different countries namely La Liga with Barcelona, the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich and now with City in England – the latter being the most challenging because of the strength of the Premier League.
Ignore all the garbage spouted about City turning the Premier League into a one-horse race akin to Bayern Munich in Germany, PSG in France or the slightly more competitive La Liga with Barcelona, Real Madrid and, at a push, Atletico.
Strange how nobody used to moan when Fergie’s United were monopolising the Premier League and Liverpool before them, in the old First Division. It’s not rocket science to figure out why, but such jealousy and hypocrisy is of no concern to the all-conquering City of the present day.
Having been The Centurions in 2018 and The Fourmidables in 2019, it wasn’t obvious at the turn of the year that this season could surpass everything that has gone before.
Dumped out of the Carabao Cup by a Southampton side destined for relegation, City were misfiring after supplying 16 players for the Qatar World Cup, more than any other Premier League club.
A controversial Manchester derby defeat on January 14th left City trailing eight points behind Arsenal, when Mikel Arteta’s team beat Spurs in the North London derby.
If mental fatigue and physical tiredness was a factor, Guardiola galvanised his squad in the face of adversity. When the Premier League charged City with115 alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play – the day after a disappointing loss at Tottenham – Pep seized the moment.
An inspirational leader and powerful orator, he created a siege mentality within the club. He told the dressing room, ‘It’s us against them’. He displayed a fiery defiance in his press conferences, declaring: “I am not moving from this seat!”
It sparked what has now become a 23-match unbeaten run, including 11 consecutive Premier League wins going into today’s encounter with Chelsea. Just four draws (three away in the Champions League) and two points dropped away at Nottingham Forest, figure in the run where City have racked up 68 goals and conceded just 13.
With three Premier League games to play, Pep has the luxury of being able to rest, or at least rotate some of his ‘go to’ players; the likes of De Bruyne, Rodri, Grealish, Bernardo, Stones, Dias and even the Football Writer’s Player of the Year Haaland, ahead of an FA Cup Final against Manchester United and Champions League face off with Inter Milan.
It would make sense and help keep key performers out of harm’s way. Conversely City have a rhythm and momentum that needs to be sustained as football immortality beckons.
By David Walker
Twitter: @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu