Are the Champions about to dominate domestically? Can the rest keep up?
With a sense of inevitability Jay Rodriguez put West Brom one nil up at Old Trafford with just over a quarter of an hour to play last Sunday. United had gone from heroically stopping their bitter rival’s triumphal laps one week, to giving it to them on a plate the next. Pep played golf, Kompany went to his in-laws and we all watched what we knew had been coming for six months.
All pundits and former players have been unanimous – this is thoroughly deserved, beautiful football, Pep is a genius and so on. Now without too much of an awkward nod to my previous post, the question for City next, is can they turn this great season into domestic dominance for the next few years? Should the rest of us forget any domestic hopes for the foreseeable? Is the League Cup going to get a bit tasty? Whatever happens, Pep has delivered a side that is certainly more than capable of emulating the Manchester United sides of the noughties and nineties.
Ninety three goals and twenty eight wins from thirty three, this time, the stats are a true reflection. City have been untouchable for pretty much the entire campaign and have proven that the odd defeat was just a blip. They play with pace and movement, streamlined in possession and gliding past deep lying back fives with almost casual ease. On top of this, they also possess a squad full of exciting talent, with a nice blend of youth and experience. Oh and a top class manager who is custom made for success. It does beg the question, are there any weaknesses for their more gifted competitors to exploit?
It was a relief to see Sergio Aguero miss the Champions League last eight tie with Liverpool. He is one of the best strikers of the Premier League era and a source of inspiration for City. Even in an injury disrupted season, he has notched thirty in thirty-nine appearances. City therefore started both massive games with Sterling, Sane and Jesus up top. This trio, no matter how gifted had an average combined age of just twenty-one, and it does beg the question, did this lack of experience up front hurt them?
They also looked slightly devoid of ideas at times against Liverpool. Targeting Trent Alexander-Arnold for the first game was understandable, but once he’d proven his class after the Anfield leg, surely a different approach was needed. And yet the diagonal kept going over to that flank in the second leg. With a team blessed with such ingenuity, this did seem very bland indeed and with a game to chase, not much was offered up. Liverpool’s high intensity and United’s change of gear in their second half performance, unleashing Pogba for once, saw City look a little timid and shell-shocked.
It must also be said that many sides have simply done what they always do when facing a superior team; ten men behind the ball, and hope it doesn’t become too damaging for their goal difference. However, giving such a good side that much of the ball, with their pace and movement is only going to end one way. For a purist, it’s great to see this boring approach eviscerated by proper football, but it does leave you wondering, how many sides have actually got at City this season? Perhaps the aura which settled around Pep and his lads simply terrified too many before a ball had been kicked in anger.
Old at Heart
One area which should be a concern is the ageing of their influential spine. The aforementioned Aguero is inching towards thirty, whilst David Silva, Fernandinho and Kompany are all thirty-two. They’ve played a lot of football at high intensity and injuries are catching up with them. Arguably the most irreplaceable of that group is David Silva, the man’s genius has lit up the Premier League and he’s contributed by the bucket load, being involved in a staggering 122 goals in the league in two hundred and forty seven games. Yes they have De Bruyne, but a man of Silva’s evergreen class is hard to come by and they will be hoping to nurse him through at least two more seasons.
Liverpool allowed a great late eighties side to age together and almost twenty five years later, the same could be said for Manchester United’s final great side under Ferguson. Its one hell of an elephant in the room, and clubs can find themselves in a position where they need four or five first team recruits, before they even consider the squad players. For any manager, this would create no end of problems.
Now as I’ve clutched at the above straws, I’m conscious that City have yet another weapon and perhaps their trump card; ambitious owners with a bottomless pit of money. League Cup anyone? This is a club that spent more on its defence this season than many sovereign nations, and they’ve shown time and time again, that they can outspend their rivals. It would however, be foolish to suggest that this will guarantee City’s dominance. They’ve won the league three times since their takeover a decade ago, the same number as United. Chelsea’s riches didn’t yield Premier League dominance as many predicted in 2004, although had they stuck with one of their excellent managers down the years, this may have been a different story.
What about next season then? There have been some excitable claims that the Premier League is set to become a one horse race, similar to the French, German and Scottish leagues. However looking at the six pours cold water on that argument. Manchester United’s defensive record is up there with City’s and they do have some financial muscle of their own. Spurs and Liverpool both have wonderfully gifted managers, with teams set up to play and score with freedom. No doubt Chelsea will bounce back eventually, no matter what happens with their revolving door recruitment plan. The beauty of this league is its fierce tempo and tribal loyalties. Crystal Palace missed a late penalty at home to City which would have given them a win, Swansea have beaten Arsenal and Liverpool this year while West Brom have just won at Old Trafford. If more teams take more risks and attack next season against City it should make for a more open title race and sow some seeds of doubt in their ranks. Dominance is hard fought, City look to be in a solid position to go to that level. It will be for the rest of their rivals to step up and take the fight to them. It can be done.