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.