After almost a decade as the Manchester City chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak is seeing the fruits of his investment blossom in no uncertain terms. So too is Pep Guardiola reaping the rewards for creating what appears to be a near-perfect equilibrium, in only his second season at the Manchester City helm.
A third Premier League title is all but sewn up, and the euphoria at Manchester City is without earthly limits at present. Subsequently, focus now turns to the Champions League, with the relatively minnow-like FC Basel standing between City and a quarter final berth. With City massive favourites to progress, and drastically shorten their odds of a domestic and European quadruple, the question is now whether or not the squad of 2017/18 can become the greatest City team of all time.
That is, of course, if they are not already…
2016/17 gave more than a few hints of events to come at City, but there were also some poor defensive performances, which ultimately cost City any chance of winning the title. After signing John Stones and Kyle Walker within a year of each other, Guardiola has a well-balanced defence now at its peak.
At present Stones is not fully fit, having sustained an injury in November, which put paid to what was shaping up to be a vintage season for the man from Barnsley. Stones’ unique, composed and ‘continental’ style of play is once more in evidence, and fits Guardiola’s passing setup to near-perfection.
This relates positively to City’s chances of utilising the ‘away goals’ system effectively. Meanwhile, for Stones’ fellow Yorkshireman Kyle Walker, 2017/18 has so far been a great, uninterrupted success story.
In addition to providing more depth, the pacy Walker’s arrival also established a sense of balance between the wide areas that was lacking at times in 2016/17. With a pass completion rate of 88% to date this season, Walker has clearly embraced Guardiola’s philosophy of possession and shrewd passing, and will be a vital part of any City ‘double’ in May.
10/10 for attacking depth
For any team chasing a Premier League and Champions League double, having depth in the wide areas and final third is vital, with players in those positions often exerting more energy than any other teammate. The arrival of Gabriel Jesus in January 2017 proved to be more than a ‘depth’ signing, with the Brazilian striker showing an instinctive ability to play off the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva.
However, the bulk of the plaudits must go to Leroy Sané, whom a significant amount of City fans would identify as Guardiola’s best value signing yet. Many held concerns over the lightning-quick Sané’s slight frame against the unmatched physical strength of the Premier League’s finest defenders. The German international grew quickly into the league, and has now cemented a place in an extremely competitive starting XI, having ended 2016/17 with two consecutive ‘club player of the month’ awards.
Sané’s form for City will also be crucial in his establishment inside Joachim Low’s German World Cup team, which is presently the high buy/sell in the latest outright spread betting market for Russia 2018.
Regardless of how his form undulates from now until May, he will always have an element of surprise, and the ability to create chances from wide areas and 1-on-1 situations. Again, such characteristics will vital against teams when away goals are part of the agenda, as they once more will be this coming spring.
Is the current City crop the greatest of all time?
Not yet. Winning 6-0 at the likes of Watford every week is all very well, but Guardiola’s squad will still need to emulate the achievements their historical counterparts managed nearly fifty years ago, if they truly are to be remembered as the greatest City squad of all time.
Right now, the Manchester City squad of 2017/18 has no historic equal in terms of star quality and entertainment. However, 1970 remains the last occasion on which a City side won European honours and a league title within a two-year period.
It is this fact which prevents City’s current squad from going down undisputedly as the club’s greatest of all time. In practice, that means winning the Champions League this year or the next, as well as defending the imminent league title.