- With 18 wins in 19 games, Manchester City is setting never-before-seen marks of dominance.
Halfway through the season, Manchester City is a lot more than halfway to breaking a host of records. It has still dropped only two points all season, and already holds the record for the most consecutive league wins in English football with 17. Their lead at the top is 13 points: The title race is as good as over. All that remains to be determined is just how dominant City will be, and where they will take their place in the pantheon of all-time great English sides.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side of 2004-05 holds the record for most points in a season with 95; if City replicates their first half of the season in the second, they will amass 110. That may seem unlikely, but the first 100-point season is definitely on. Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea of 2009-10 holds the record for the most goals in a season with 103; City already has 60.
The biggest winning margin in Premier League history is the 18 points Manchester United won it by in 1999-2000. That too is under serious threat. Most wins in a season is the 30 manged by Antonio Conte’s Chelsea last season; with 18 wins in 19 games, the surprise would be if City didn’t beat that. In every metric, City is setting new marks of dominance.
There seems no way to stop them. Teams have sat deep against them, allowed them the ball, tried to frustrate them, and found themselves gradually worn down and picked apart. That sequence of three successive 2-1 wins against Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham a month ago, all achieved with late goals, remains the closest City has come to a wobble. Teams that pushed up against them, tried to disrupt their distribution form the back and, even when they’ve been relatively successful in doing that, as Tottenham was two weeks ago, have ended up being hammered.
The only problem might be if it becomes too easy. That was an issue that afflicted Pep Guardiola’s Bayern sides, particularly in his first season in Germany when, with the title won with seven games remaining, the level of intensity dropped with a knock-on effect in the Champions League. And Europe, probably, will be the ultimate testing ground for City when assessing where they lie in the all-time rankings.
There are still those who are skeptical of Guardiola. It is true that he has always managed extremely wealthy clubs, but it’s also true that he has done extraordinary things with them. There was a joke that did the rounds in the summer that featured Guardiola going to the City board and excitedly explaining how he could get them playing the best football anybody had ever seen. “All I need,” came the kicker, “is the two best players in the world in every position.”
There’s enough truth to that jibe to give it punch but it doesn’t alter the fact that City’s football is extraordinary—nor that there are plenty of sides who have spent equivalent amounts without producing anything like the football City is producing. But still there are those who seem determined to do Guardiola down, foremost among them the Irish controversialist (and former United player) Eamon Dunphy, who has described this as the “worst Premier League in history”. If that is true, though, how is it that all five English sides made it through to the last 16 of the Champions League, four of them by winning their group?
The issue of competitiveness is a live one, though. The strength of the Premier League in recent years has been the sense that there is a ‘Big Six’ rather than a Big One (as in Germany, Italy and France) or Big Two (as in Spain). The sneerers will note that for the third-straight season this looks like a title race of very little drama, but what sets the Premier League apart is that in each season it has been a different side that has streaked ahead. It may be that City is beginning a period of domination but even if that is so, it will be one determined by ability rather than merely finance: the latest Deloitte list shows City as having only the second highest revenue of any Premier League club in a list that features six English clubs among the wealthiest 12 worldwide. That is not the same advantage enjoyed by a Bayern or a Paris St-Germain.
As to where City lies in the all-time pantheon, they’re halfway to repeating Arsenal’s feat of 2003-04 and going unbeaten through an entire season (although at this stage then, Arsenal had 10 points fewer than City do now), but what will always count against that side is that they won only the league that year. Similar Champions League failure slightly undermines the claims of Jose Mourinho’s great Chelsea teams of 2004-06.
Such matters are necessarily subjective, but given the strength of the opposition and their capacity to win not only domestically, it’s the Manchester United sides of 2007-08 and 1998-99 that probably stand as the markers at which City is aiming. With the league all but wrapped up, the next stage is to win the Champions League for the first time. At the moment, not only does that seem likely, but there appears little reason why City couldn’t also win both domestic cups and complete an unprecedented quadruple.