(written by Tom Cayless)
11 wins in a row, 30 goals scored, 3 goals conceded. Everything seems to be going just perfect for Manchester City at the moment. Even without Sergio Aguero fit, City are scoring goals and plenty of them. Defensively the best in Europe, City have only conceded 17 goals in all competitions. The partnership of Ruben Dias and John Stones should take great credit for this as, at the moment, they’re the best defensive duo in Europe.
At the start of the season, Guardiola’s side looked shaky. The 5-2 defeat to Leicester was more than concerning, but since Dias’ arrival, everything seems to have just slid into place. It may only be West Brom, but even without De Bruyne, City absolutely cruised through the match. Scoring four in the first half and another in the second. In their altered kit, City put on perhaps their best performance of the season and if they continue in their form they’ll fancy their chances in any competition.
Perhaps at the bottom of Guardiola’s priority list, The Carabao Cup. After beating rivals, Manchester United, in the semi-finals, they find themselves in the final against Jose Mourinho’s Spurs. If Guardiola can manage to keep the duo of Son and Kane quiet, which is a massive task, then City should do just fine. Despite this threat, and Tottenham beating City 2-0, earlier in the season, City will go into the final as total favourites and will look to win their seventh, and fourth consecutive, League Cup. The first out of the four.
The next trophy up for grabs is the FA Cup. Thanks to the young Phil Foden, Manchester City battled past Cheltenham and will now play Swansea City away in the fifth round. In the same round of fixtures, both Arsenal and Liverpool were knocked out. Out of the traditional ‘top six’ only City, Manchester United, Spurs, and Chelsea remain. With Thomas Tuchel recently taking over at Chelsea, things could go either way. The same with the inconsistencies of United and Tottenham’s tendencies to bottle cup competitions. From all these factors, plus when City are at their best- which they have been recently- they should win it with ease. Obviously, they can’t be expected to play at their 100% all the time but even with the hardest draw in each round City will fancy their chances.
As for the Premier League, Guardiola will be determined to take back the title from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. At the time of writing, City sit top of the table, a point ahead of Manchester rivals, United. The blue side of Manchester also has a game in hand and if they win that they’ll go four points clear of the nearest challenger.
Liverpool and City have pushed each other to the extreme over the past few seasons, most famously their 2018/19 title race, in which City won on 98 points and Liverpool finished second, a point behind. 97 points would have been enough to win the league in any other season, apart from the one before, which City’s Centurion side won.
However, as of late, Liverpool have been poor, only picking up three points out of a possible 15. They’ve also failed to score in their last four league games. But surely, a team that was so good in the past two seasons, can’t go this bad and stay this bad for a long part of a season. Liverpool will surely be back but may have left it too late, as City are seven clear of the scousers, so unless Guardiola’s team completely falls apart, there’s a small chance Liverpool will finish above them.
A few outside calls for the title are the likes of former champions, Leicester. Brendan Rodgers’ side has been going around their business excellently this season, including victories at the Etihad, Emirates, and The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. They find themselves in third place, two points behind the leaders but have played a game more. So, City look and will undoubtedly feel confident in the race for the Premier League title but will have to be at their best, with plenty of quality sides in waiting.
Finally. The big one. The UEFA Champions League. The trophy which has evaded City forever, literally. For the past three years, Guardiola has found his side dumped out at the quarter-final stage. Yes, in the ties against Liverpool and Spurs, Spurs especially, they may have felt hard done by with some dodgy VAR and refereeing decisions. But in the most recent tie, against Lyon, City had no excuse. Guardiola got it completely wrong. He played a three-back, which showed his obvious worry of Lyon’s counter-attack but it completely backfired. They were beaten 3-1, after two excellent performances against Real Madrid. This was City’s darkest moment of a very dark season and they won’t want the same issues to resurface.
As previously mentioned, this season has been different and although City will have always gone into games confident, they’ll be more determined than ever in their search for the Champions League. The club clearly believes Guardiola is the man to bring the UCL and this was shown in the two contract extension he was given in November.
This season may be their best chance to win Europe’s top club competition. Spanish superpowers, Real Madrid and Barcelona are both usual favourites in any competition but find themselves in a major transition. Real Madrid are still trying to cope without the irreplaceable Cristiano Ronaldo. Although they won La Liga last season, they’ve struggled this season. Losing both games to Shakhtar Donetsk in the group games made it tough to even get to the round of 16 and they now face a tricky tie against last year’s quarter-finalists, Atalanta.
There are clear issues over in Catalonia also, Messi’s future has never looked as uncertain as it does now and it’s causing issues internally. The internal problems are affecting the on-pitch performances, they find themselves 10 points behind league leaders, Atletico Madrid. They also have an extremely interesting game in the next round, against PSG, meaning even if they go through, one European giant will be knocked out early.
Last year’s winners, Bayern Munich will always fancy their chances but have not been at their levels of before. They were beaten by a second division side, on penalties, in the DFB-Pokal and blew a 2-0 lead away to City’s round of 16 opponents, Borussia Mönchengladbach. They’ll surely be up there challenging, but don’t pose as much of a threat as they previously have.
As for Juventus, they also find themselves in a transitional stage. Andrea Pirlo took over from Sarri in the summer and has not found it easy, currently leading the team to a disappointing fourth place. However, any team with the competition’s top scorer, Ronaldo, will always be a threat and City will see them as strong competitors.
The strongest competitors will more than likely be, PSG and Atletico Madrid. The French giants have changed managers since the group stage, with Mauricio Pochettino taking over Thomas Tuchel. After some sensible transfer business, PSG now has an excellently rounded side and not as top-heavy as seasons before. Kylian Mbappe and Neymar will cause any team a worry and with midfielders such as Leonardo Parades and Marco Veratti behind them, they’ll be certain to score a lot of goals. Since Pochettino took over they haven’t lost and will look to take this form into the Champions League.
Perhaps City’s strongest challengers will be Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. They’ve been excellent this season and unless there’s a big bottle from them, they’ll win La Liga for the first time since 2014. Simeone knows how to make it far into the competition, making the final in 2014 and 2016. With the new inclusions of Luis Suarez and the pick-up in form of Joao Felix they’ve also found scoring easier than before and with a solid defence, only conceding eight in the league, the red and white of Madrid will be up there.
Manchester City should be confident, and have earned that right, in every game and competition they go into. They’re the bookies’ favourites for all competitions, and although it will be extremely difficult and it shouldn’t be expected, there’s no reason the quadruple couldn’t happen.