Dissenting voices can still be heard in the ongoing discussion about the dominance of Manchester City this season. Just how good are they? Are they really the best team to ever grace the EPL? (Spoiler alert: nope, not yet). Can they win the Champions League?
By Matty Lawrence
City’s dominance in the EPL is a sight to behold regardless of the naysayers bemoaning the amount of money they’ve shelled out. Let’s make no bones about it, most of us are just a tad jealous and wish our teams played the attractive, forward thinking footy that City do.
Owner Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, or Sheikh Mansour to his buddies, may have a few dubious skeletons in his closet (and heaven forbid you fool around in that closet in Abu Dhabi, the country ruled by Mansour’s family) but despite the human rights issues surrounding the owner of Manchester City Football Club, how contemptible is it for Pep Guardiola to accept one of the greatest challenges in his managerial career?
Should the players themselves be worried about who is signing their pay checks? How about the fans passing through the turnstiles at the Etihad Stadium every other weekend? At what point should our love of the beautiful game be tempered by the behavior of the owners and regimes that have been swarming into football in the past decade? If the EPL give them the go ahead after doing their due diligence on applicants, should we just coalesce?
As with any conundrum in life, we must look inward before we point fingers. I’ll unhappily admit that I have sometimes taken pay checks from treacherous bastards. In another lifetime I would probably cross the road if they were on fire, or at best relieve myself in the pursuit of dousing the flames, but sometimes needs must. For now I’m going to focus on the football being played on the green stuff on the pitch and try to forget where the green stuff off it is coming from.
Ultimately, there is no denying the fact that Guardiola has created a team far superior to any in the EPL. They are currently 16 points clear of city rivals (pun intended) United and a colossal 33 points ahead of perennial Champions League chasers Arsenal FC.
If this campaign were a boxing match it would have been stopped around Christmas time. Come April, you can be sure the PFA selected ‘Team of the year’ will be awash with sky blue. The fast, free-flowing football of this Man City team is a joy to watch. Yes, Liverpool FC may have a slightly more dynamic, counter-attacking trio at the helm, but they still have a propensity to leak goals like the Titanic just after the iceberg struck.
Spurs are awash with style and grace, but even they lag an astonishing 20 points behind City and have yet to dispel the theory that when the going gets tough they turn to jigsaws: doubly so in their case as they fall apart in both boxes. City’s experience reigns over Spurs’ sweet, naïve innocence.
As for the red half of Manchester, they are literally the polar opposite of their neighbors. Jose Mourinho’s willingness to suck the joy out of the game like the new Dyson cordless cleaner on a dust-addled floor is exactly why the word contrasting was invented. For all Mourinho’s bemoaning the lack of cash, Romelu Lukaku has come in at £75m and Paul Pogba at a whopping £90m, or so.
There are other players in the United side with large price tags on their head, but very few seem to be enjoying what is supposedly one of the best jobs in the world. Right now, poor old Pogba looks like he’d rather be anywhere else on the planet than pulling on the previously cherished red shirt of United. Yes, Manchester United are second in the league – but points, style and enjoyment wise the gulf is Grand Canyon-esque.
A glance at the Premier League goalscorers chart reveals that no less than four City players grace the top twenty. Aguero (21), Sterling (15), Jesus (8) and Sane (8). Gabriel Jesus hardly gets a sniff of the starting line-up yet he’s managed to bang in a hatful.
Kevin De Bruyne, City’s best player by a country mile, has racked up 11 goals and 19 assists in all competitions. De Bruyne has the vision of an owl and the passing ability of Glenn Hoddle in his pomp. If he gets any better, opposition managers are going to have to consider tying one leg behind his back in the tunnel before the game, or sticking a fantasy midfield trio of Hurlock, Souness and Bremner in the middle of the park to contribute a few scything challenges to the cause.
Domestically, the title is sewn up, but can City go on and win the Champions League? Of course they can and it isn’t all about the green stuff Guardiola has at his disposal. Unai Emery has an equally obscene amount of money to spend and look at the shambles that was PSG’s latest quest for the Champions League trophy – beaten 5-2 on aggregate by a Real Madrid side languishing third in La Liga and a whopping 15 points behind Barcelona.
PSG spent the GDP of a mid-sized Scandinavian country on Neymar…and that was just on his entourage. Neymar, the footballer, came at an extra price. Fellow strike partner Kylian Mbappe cost another £150m, or so, and let’s not even get started on Cavani, Di Maria, Drexler et al.
If it were solely about the money we would be seeing a PSG vs Man City Champions League final. As it is, PSG blew the transfer record out of the water this summer and still progressed no further than they did last season. By contrast, Manchester City have spent wisely, and in Pep Guardiola have found a manager who can guide them to the promised land.