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Man City could blow the Invincibles out of the record books

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A month ago, we were wondering if the Premier League title race was over. Now, we should be seriously preparing ourselves for the most successful league campaign of all time. It’s a very real possibility.

If Pep Guardiola can successfully navigate the festive period unscathed, despite a pair of key injuries to central defenders, only Manchester City would stand in the way of a potential record-smashing season for Manchester City.

With 58 points through 20 matches, City has another 54 possible points remaining in their season. While there’s still plenty of soccer left to be played, considering they’ve dropped just two so far, it’s entirely feasible that they could finish the season unbeaten. That would leave Everton as the only team all season to oppose City successfully, in a 1-1 draw the second match of the season. Like a pitcher walking the second batter in an otherwise unblemished first inning, that match very well could end up being the difference between an unbeaten and perfect league campaign.

Here’s why Guardiola and company could absolutely make it through the final 18 matches unscathed: they dominate teams even when they don’t dominate teams.

Consider their 1-0 victory over Newcastle just yesterday. The Magpies nearly grabbed a late equalizer as Dwight Gayle agonizingly missed, leaving the visitors to sweat might could have been at St. James Park. Nevertheless, City escaped with the win – their 18th straight – and in reality, the game wasn’t that close.

xG showed City comfortably in control for much of the match, leaving Manchester City with a 2.1-0.3 advantage in what was a mostly elementary afternoon.

A staple of Guardiola’s style of play, City bolsters its suddenly fearsome defense by choking its opponents to death with an overwhelming swarm of possession. City held a whopping 78% possession against Newcastle on the road, and they average 63% possession on the season, by far the most of any team since Squawka started keeping stats in 2012.

When they lose the ball, City immediately puts the opponent under relentless pressure until they win the ball back, and then rest while in possession before building again from the back. It’s why Nicolas Otamendi outpassed the entire Newcastle outfield team over the course of 90 minutes.

Those numbers aren’t a one-off. Otamendi has reached at least 90 passes in five Premier League matches this season and John Stones another four times. It’s a clear strategy City looks to recreate each and every time on the pitch.

That’s a masterclass in how Pep Guardiola uses possessional dominance to both keep his team fresh over the course of 90 minutes and slowly extinguishes an opponent’s life game after game. Cause of death: asphyxiation. Then they pounce as opponents become frustrated, pushing forward hoping to win the ball back from the City defenders taking a breather, only to realize they’re stretched thin – but it’s too late.

What will stand between Manchester City and a perfect finish to the season is simply if they allow teams one final gasp of air as games wind down – Newcastle nearly found a way through, but couldn’t apply the finishing touch. If another club can finish where Dwight Gayle could not, City’s incredible win streak will come to an end. Otherwise, we could be in the midst of the most amazing Premier League campaign of all-time.

The Invincibles – Arsenal’s legendary 2003/04 season finished with 12 draws and zero defeats. While the 90 total points and 11 point differential over 2nd-placed Chelsea isn’t the most stunning eventual margin, that season is largely considered one of the best – if not the best – Premier League season to date. This Manchester City side is on pace to obliterate all the accomplishments of that amazing team.

Not only will the team potentially reach new heights, but they will likely sweep the individual accomplishments as well. Kevin De Bruyne is the clear favorite for Player of the Year as it stands, seemingly only needing to hold off the prolific Harry Kane. They hold a pair of Young Player of the Year contenders in Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus. They have maybe the most in-form defender in Nicolas Otamendi, despite the many jeers he and teammate John Stones faced only a season ago.

Whether you laud them for their dominance or criticize them for their spending, whether you love them for their style or disdain them for their form, whether you’re a supporter of the club, a neutral fan, or a hated rival, you have but one instruction – enjoy it. It’s possible we may never see another like it again.

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”

Guardiola happy to reach final, knows Man City to be judged by hardware

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Bristol City made its interesting late with a pair of goals, but Manchester City’s League Cup destiny was never in jeopardy in a 3-2 second leg win at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

[ RECAP: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

That sent the club into the Feb. 25 final with a 5-3 aggregate win, and it’s very difficult not to leap to the story line that is Pep Guardiola‘s chance at a first significant title in his reign at Man City.

The closest City came to hardware last season was being bounced by Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. This time, City is the favorite to win at least three of its four entered competitions: the Premier League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup.

But to hear Pep say it, for now the club is just happy to have earned one final berth. From the BBC:

“We are so happy to be there, to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lost control, these type of games never end until the end. This is a lesson for next weekend in Cardiff in the FA Cup and especially for the Champions League.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Manchester City, a club who are trying to reach another level. … I know that we will be judged by trophies we win but we are so happy. Nobody can take away what we have done, but Chelsea or Arsenal are strong teams.”

Guardiola was serious about not overlooking the Robins, as he rolled out a very similar lineup to the full-strength bunch that beat Newcastle United 3-1 at the weekend. That may have cost City late, but it had already built a 4-1 aggregate lead with two superior away goals.

Yes, Guardiola is a man who measures himself by the way his club plays but also by winning in that attractive fashion. Expect a determined club to stride into Wembley late next month.

Chelsea and Arsenal square off Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium for the right to match up with Man City, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2016. Even year dominance?

Man City into League Cup final (video)

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  • City outshoots Bristol 28-5
  • Sane, Aguero put MCFC up 2-0
  • Pack, Kent pulls two back for Bristol
  • De Bruyne answers in stoppage
  • City wins 5-3 on aggregate

A pair of late goals put a scare into Man City, but the Premier League leaders scored just before and right after halftime to insure its first leg lead en route to a 3-2 win over Bristol City at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

City wins 5-3 on aggregate in the League Cup semifinal, with Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, and Kevin De Bruyne scoring in the second leg.

Pep Guardiola moves to within 90 minutes of his first significant title as Man City boss, and will face either Chelsea or Arsenal on Feb. 25 at Wembley Stadium.

Marlon Pack and Aden Flint scored for Bristol City.

[ MORE: Full stats, box score ]

Sane scored in the 43rd minute and Sergio Aguero struck less than four minutes after the teams returned from the halftime break.

An errant John Stones clearance helped Bristol to the scoreboard in the 64th minute, with Pack scoring the goal.

Flint then nodded home in stoppage time to give the Robins hope for a miracle win, but new contract hero De Bruyne scored within a minute to burn those hopes to the ground.

Bristol would be in the Football League Championship playoffs if the season ended now, sitting in fifth place.

Midfielder Lassana Diarra joins PSG on short-term deal

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain has made its first signing of the winter transfer window by hiring midfielder Lassana Diarra on a short-term deal until June 2019.

The 32-year-old holding midfielder will once again try to revive his career in the French league after a successful stint at PSG’s bitter rival, Marseille, that ended last year.

The much-traveled Diarra, who was born in Paris, then played for a few months with United Arab Emirates club Al Jazira.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Diarra, a former Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid player, won English and Spanish league titles in 2006 and 2012. He has 34 caps for France and featured at the European Championship in 2008.

His strong performances with Marseille earned him a recall from France, but he eventually pulled out of Didier Deschamps’ squad for Euro 2016 because of a left knee injury.

“I am very happy to have signed for my hometown club,” Diarra said. “Paris Saint-Germain represents a lot to me and, with the international dimension the club has taken in recent seasons, it is every player’s dream to play here. I am lucky enough to make this dream come true.”

Diarra joined on a free transfer and his signing won’t affect PSG’s bank accounts, which are under UEFA’s scrutiny.

PSG is under pressure to sell players to balance the books after splashing out 402 million euros ($473 million) on forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe last year. That led to Qatari-owned PSG being placed under investigation by UEFA for potential breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.