Pep Guardiola and Manchester City can reach even higher levels in pursuit of Premier League hat-trick
The champions have room to improve even further after two successive seasons of breaking records
After the unprecedented Treble, the hat-trick of hat-tricks?
Manchester City made history last season as the first team to win the English league and the two major domestic Cups in the same season.
If one aim this year is to join Huddersfield Town, Arsenal, Liverpool and two Manchester United sides among the ranks of the groups to win the title in three successive seasons, it would give Pep Guardiola a still more notable distinction.
The Catalan was the first manager to become a champion of Spain, Germany and England.
He reeled off three successive triumphs with first Barcelona and then Bayern Munich. Should he repeat the feat with City, he will set a record that may never be emulated.
It certainly would stand as a testament to a relentless quest for excellence.
He has a capacity to raise the bar. City’s recent tallies of 100 and 98 points represent the two highest in English top-flight history.
He has already overseen six seasons where his sides have dropped a maximum of 18 points. There is an obvious focus on the artistry of Guardiola’s football, but the numbers highlight the efficiency.
His formula seems sustainable, self-perpetuating and, above all, successful.
City scored 169 goals in all competitions last season. They had seven players in double figures. They scored at least six goals eight times, including in the FA Cup final, an Uefa Champions League last-16 tie and a meeting with Chelsea.
If City have not quite mastered the vagaries of continental knockout football, they have become England’s first era-defining team since Sir Alex Ferguson’s United.
And yet the reality that Liverpool are European champions suggests there may be two.
Without Liverpool, City would be a shoo-in to retain the title. Instead, they are merely favourites. The Community Shield suggests there is precious little between them.
If the gap feels too vast for anyone else to bridge, complacency is not the City way. For the second consecutive summer, there is a solitary major signing but Guardiola can conjure improvement from within.
Raheem Sterling’s 20-goal seasons now feel the norm and Bernardo Silva went from eager back-up to the man his manager believed should have been named Footballer of the Year last season.
Oleksandr Zinchenko represented another triumph of coaching; it is quietly remarkable City have got 198 points in two seasons when they have only started with a specialist left-back for 14 games.
That injury-prone specialist, Benjamin Mendy, offers some of the intrigue. So does Leroy Sane, coveted by Bayern Munich, yet to sign a new contract and sometimes on the bench but sufficiently deadly that he averages either a goal or an assist every 95 minutes in the Premier League in the last two seasons.
But with Kevin de Bruyne fit again, it is possible to envisage Bernardo Silva spending more time in the front three. Riyad Mahrez, last year’s lone arrival, faces a battle to feature more frequently.
Gabriel Jesus delivered 21 goals last season without displacing Sergio Aguero; another deluxe substitute could do with leapfrogging a decorated great.
Yet in other positions, City are evolving, the generation game taking them from their greatest group to a younger collective. This will be David Silva’s final season and if he is phased out, Phil Foden could feature more.
The signing of Rodri provides a belated replacement for Fernandinho in the defensive-midfield berth, though the formidably fit Brazilian could yet be utilised in a variety of other roles.
He may help compensate for Vincent Kompany’s departure to manage Anderlecht. The captain scripted his own fairytale farewell, particularly with his astonishing winner against Leicester City in his last match at the Etihad Stadium in May.
If City will miss his leadership, they have flourished under Guardiola’s guidance. And if the purist completes another trio, there is a case for crowning him the ultimate pragmatist.
Updated: August 8, 2019 12:17 PM