Manchester City may no longer have its record winning streak in the league, and star Gabriel Jesus is facing a lengthy injury layoff while fellow standout Kevin De Bruyne is overcoming an injury scare, but the club remains on track to do what only one other club has done before–go the entire Premier League season unbeaten.
With 22 games played after a home win over Watford on Tuesday, Manchester City still has the 2003-2004 "Invincible" Arsenal side in its sights, no matter how much Pep Guardiola wants to play down the likelihood of running the slate undefeated.
"That is not going to happen," Guardiola said recently. "I am not thinking to be unbeaten. Maybe Arsene [Wenger] is worried about that, but I tell him many times ‘2004, that run is for him.’ Today is completely different to 2004. Here are now more strong teams, a lot of competitions, a lot of games. That is not going to happen."
The congested holiday schedule is certainly putting that quest to the test, but regardless of the hurdle or obstacle, it's quite clear that this City side is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. "Not going to happen" may be the correct way to play down expectations publicly, and it's true that Man City still faces games at Liverpool, at Arsenal, vs. Chelsea, vs. Manchester United and at Tottenham over the coming months while competing on multiple fronts. Dropping points and, yes, losing, are obvious possibilities. But should City make it to mid-May unbeaten after that clash at Wembley vs. Spurs, its final four games come vs. Swansea, at West Ham, vs. Huddersfield Town and at Southampton. Surely, by then, Guardiola would allow himself to consider the potential of making history.
Considering that City holds a 15-point lead over second-place Manchester United and is 17 points clear of third-place Chelsea (which has a game in hand), there really is no title race in England's top flight (nor is there, really, in Spain, France or Germany). The Premier League drama resides in the chase for spots 2-4 and the hopes of avoiding places 18-20. What is worth watching at the top of the table, though, is how Manchester City compares to the great Arsenal side of 14 years ago.
The tale of the tape shows one that–all variables and different-era comparisons aside–is on pace to tilt heavily toward the current league-leader:
Final Premier League record: 26-0-12 (73 goals scored, 26 goals conceded, +47 goal differential, 90 points)
Top league winning streak: Nine games
FA Cup: Eliminated in semifinals by Manchester United
League Cup: Eliminated in semifinals by Middlesbrough
Champions League: Eliminated in quarterfinals by Chelsea
Through 22 EPL matches: 15-0-7 (42 goals scored, 14 goals conceded, + 28 goal differential, 52 points)
MANCHESTER CITY 2017-2018
Premier League record thus far: 20-0-2 (64 goals scored, 13 goals conceded, +51 goal differential, 62 points)
Top league winning streak: 18 games (league record)
FA Cup: Will face either Cardiff or Mansfield in the fourth round (32 teams remain)
League Cup: Will face Bristol City in semifinals
Champions League: Will play FC Basel in round of 16
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Verdict: As it stands, Man City is on pace to shatter what Arsenal accomplished. And the fact that it's happening in the big-money era of the Premier League makes it all the more impressive. Whereas '03-04 Arsenal won just one trophy, City could realistically win four, and at this point it's almost expected that it will take the domestic treble. Conquering the Champions League will surely take something extra, but City has clearly emerged as one of Europe's most elite clubs.
As Jonathan Wilson pointed out for SI.com last week, more records could fall or be matched beyond Arsenal's unbeaten season. The 2004-2005 Chelsea team set a mark for points with 95 (City is currently 36 behind that pace with 17 games to go). The 1999-2000 Manchester United team set the record for largest point disparity in a title-winning season, besting the next closest competition by 18. The 2016-17 Chelsea team holds the record for wins in a season with 30. The 2009-2010 Chelsea team holds the record for goals scored with 103. All are attainable.
Nothing will take away from those other great seasons, especially Arsenal's. It's beyond difficult to finish a season undefeated, no matter the talent disparity. Even loaded-up PSG has already fallen in Ligue 1, where the top-to-bottom competition is nowhere near the level of the Premier League. But Guardiola was brought to Man City to turn the club into a standard-bearer, and he's on course to do just that.