Christmas is nearly here and folk will be full of festive cheer telling us that it ‘Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la la la la la la…’
Well they’re a bit late to the party – Manchester City fans have been enjoying a helluva ‘jolly season’ since August 12th and there’s no sign of the party ending anytime soon.
It’s supposed to be a time of peace and goodwill to all men, but referee, Bobby Madley won’t figure too highly on the Christmas card list of City supporters…and definitely not Kyle Walker’s.
Mad Bob – perhaps the worst top flight referee for many a year (and that takes some doing) couldn’t deny City a League Cup quarter final victory over Leicester – despite his finest efforts.
The penalty shoot-out win, with Claudio Bravo the eventual hero again, came after a City side comprising youngsters Foden, Diaz, Adarabioyo, Nmecha, Zinchenko and Dele-Bashiu had battled Leicester A-Listers, Vardy and Mahrez, not forgetting the Foxes’ 12th Man – Mad Bob.
It meant City have now gone 27 domestic games undefeated since the FA Cup Semi Final defeat to Arsenal, and a total of 26, since their last Premier League loss to Chelsea last April.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but rewind to that summer afternoon in Brighton, and your average City supporter would be forgiven for thinking you were talking a loada ‘baubles’ if you’d said their team would be 11 points clear at the top, with 16 wins on the trot and 52 points from a possible 54.
City would undoubtedly have a full 54/54 points haul if Madley – the man who makes the likes of Twattenburg, Marriner, Jones, Dean and Mason look remotely competent – hadn’t wrongly dismissed Kyle Walker in the 1-1 draw with Everton.
He was at it again in the Carabao Cup, awarding Leicester a penalty when Demarai Gray clearly dived with Walker in close attendance.
The beauty of this season is that City are SO good, they can beat 12 men every week (14 if you want to include the assistant referees), with Pep rotating his squad to great effect.
A productive summer transfer window with Ederson, Walker, Mendy, Bernardo Silva and Danilo arriving at the Etihad, had seen City installed as pre-season title favourites, but nobody could’ve foreseen what was to come.
It’s proving to be £200m very well spent, but the penny really seemed to drop when City – without the injured trio of Aguero, Kompany and Mendy – went to Chelsea and effectively outclassed the reigning champions, despite the thin 1-0 margin of victory.
At the time, Read But Never Red asked whether the magnitude and manner of the win would force the mass media to re-evaluate their perpetually negative coverage of anything and everything City-related?
The win at Stamford Bridge sowed the seeds and now, in the depths of winter, the sheer brilliance of Pep Guardiola’s team, is reaping an unseasonal harvest of superlatives and compliments from those who previously reveled in deriding City.
It’s not as if Guardiola has given them an option after a 26-game unbeaten run (23 wins and 3 draws) in the Premier League – that’s 72 from a possible 78 points.
City’s 4-1 demolition of Spurs on Saturday evening put them a staggering 21 points in front of the pretenders from North London – a team many thought would be City’s principal title challengers.
A richly deserved 2-1 Manchester derby win at The Swamp couldn’t be soured by Mourinho’s ‘Milkgate’ shenanigans, nor his breathtaking hypocrisy in demanding some ‘f*cking respect’ from a loud and proud City dressing room serenading the Red Scum with ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ – a melody and sentiment, which clearly didn’t strike the right chord with the ‘Snide Sneer from Setubal’.
Those two resounding wins over supposed title rivals – with a 4-0 romp over some sick Welsh Swans sandwiched in between – means it really is City’s title to lose.
Guardiola’s relentless and ruthless drive for football perfection, should make it virtually impossible for any hint of complacency to worm its way into the City psyche.
And yet with 56 PL goals scored in 18 matches (averaging 3.1 per game) and just 12 conceded, you won’t find many City fans willing to claim the title is already won – despite Paddy Power paying out on City being Champions. Typical City has still to be banished completely from your average Etihad-goers vocabulary.
Three more league wins against Bournemouth, Newcastle and Crystal Palace, would see Pep equal the best ever winning run in the top five European leagues (19) - a record he set at Bayern Munich.
Guardiola’s undoubted genius means fans now expect a City win in every game. It’s not born from arrogant assumption or a sense of entitlement.
It’s simply no other team seems capable of quelling a wondrous attack or breaching a resolute defence sufficiently, to offset the former.
As mouthwatering as a Mary Berry Victoria Sponge, City’s sumptuous style has delighted the palate of most neutral football watchers with Sterling, Jesus, Sane and Aguero gobbling up a sweet collection of KDB Belgian goodies, aided by a full ‘Silva’ service.
Pep clearly has the ingredients of a title winning team and the mixture doesn’t include sour milk.
We’ll leave that one to MUTV and their new culinary feature ‘Maureen’s Dairy Diary’ where the host – a putrid Portuguese Party Pooper, shares his secrets and curdling combinations on how to dampen celebrations – not just at Christmas – but any time of the year.
Staying with the festive theme, a fat man in red and white must’ve been listening to United’s Paul Pogba who had serious injuries and problems afflicting City players, on his Christmas wish list.
Poisonous Pogba might be questioning his belief in Santa Claus after a City side missing David Silva, John Stones, Vincent Kompany and Benjamin Mendy, still annihilated ‘The Harry Kane’ team last weekend.
Kane – along with the despicable and hugely overrated Dele Alli – did their utmost to make Pogba’s wishes come true, both committing appalling fouls on Sterling and De Bruyne.
Alli’s was especially malicious, but neither he nor Kane saw red, as pathetic Craig Pawson deemed the fouls as yellow card offences.
De Bruyne duly wreaked revenge within a minute-and-a-half with City’s second goal, while Sterling weighed in with now customary late show, netting his 14th and 15th goals of the season in the 80th and 90th minutes.
An over optimistic Mauricio Pochettino had threatened turn up the music in the away dressing room, had Spurs beaten City. The reality was Spurs played in the key of off, hitting bum notes all night long.
City’s on-field performances and off-field celebrations have been equally headline-hitting in recent days.
Some sniveling, sanctimonious sycophants (step forward The Scum Sun’s Neil Custis) are still scuttling up Jose’s backside at every opportunity.
Custis and a dwindling minority of other straw-clutching, jaundiced ‘journalists’ have created a new criticism of City – one whereby they are branded as ‘disrespectful and unsporting’ for the manner of their after match celebrations.
Pep denies claims of any post-match over exuberance when City win, adding that he’s the one who encourages City’s players and staff to celebrate ‘…in that moment.’
Will any killjoys be questioning Bristol City manager, Lee Johnson’s right to sprint joyously down the touchline, when his Championship underdogs scored a 93rd minute winner to dump Jose, Zlatan, Pogba, Lukaku & Co out of the League Cup last night?
If it were United or Liverpool romping 11 points clear, everything in the garden would be rosy, but because it’s City, the narrative is that it must be a weak Premier League.
This would be the same Premier League that has five representatives in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Having won through to a League Cup semi final date with United’s conquerors, Pep was asked if City will win an unprecedented ‘Quadruple’.
‘That is not going to happen’, said the canny Catalan.
Whether Guardiola truly believes that his team will fall short in one or more competitions, remains to be seen.
There’s more than half-a-season to go, but rather than get weaker, City should grow stronger with the imminent return of the majestic Stones and injury prone Kompany, plus the distinct possibility of City making major moves in the January transfer window.
Virgil Van Dijk and Alexis Sanchez appear more than viable mid-season acquisitions, with Pep wanting to strengthen key areas of his squad and, contrary to his protestations, push for success in all competitions.
The most important signing will be none other than his own signature on an extended Etihad deal in the summer, as Pep threatens to do what everybody originally thought he was here to do - create a new level of excellence in English football.
A year ago Guardiola was under fire having lost to Chelsea at home, Leicester away, before ending 2016 with the usual City loss at Anfield.
In the face of criticism and doubt from those who were willing him and City to fail, Pep never once questioned his football principles or playing philosophy.
All he needed was time.
Now, 12 months on he’s showing the world he is a man for all seasons and, if you’re a City fan, it looks like every season will be a season of jollity with Pep at the Etihad.
By David Walker