Manchester City Are on Their Way to Becoming One of the Best Teams Ever
The Premier League touts itself as the league with the most parity, a league that offers a much stiffer challenge to its elite sides than other domestic leagues do. While that's been proven false, it's been said so many times, most people buy into it.
When Pep Guardiola, in his first year with Manchester City, didn't dominate the Premier League the way he had cruised in Spain and Germany -- finishing third, 15 points behind title-winners Chelsea -- it reaffirmed those feelings of EPL superiority for a lot of people.
But Guardiola never wavered, saying, "People say the way we played in Barcelona, it is not possible in England. It is possible. Always it is possible to play football, to keep the ball and to have the courage to play."
Well, he was right.
A dominant win over Tottenham last week was a record-setting 16th straight triumph for Manchester City and got them to Matchweek 19 of the Premier League season unbeaten -- 17 wins and 1 tie through 18 matches.
The statistics the Citizens are putting up -- like averaging an astounding 2.88 points per match -- has many comparing them to some of the best teams ever.
And rightfully so.
Of course, talking about something like the best team ever in any sport can lend itself to endless debate, and it's difficult to compare teams across generations, but we'll do our best to deliver a number-driven analysis.
And while it is premature to talk about City being the best team ever when they're not yet halfway through their season, they've gotten off to such a sublime start that it's worth starting the discussion -- with the obvious caveat that City has to maintain this pace and win silverware for them to have a spot near the top of the list of soccer's best-ever teams.
With that out of the way, let's have at it.
Comparing to Pep's Previous Best
In the modern era, when discussing the best single-season teams in history, Barcelona's 2010-11 European double-winning side is usually the standard. Not only did they win, but they did it in style, with their possession-centric, short-passing and movement-based play helping to revolutionize the game while making their manager a legend despite his -- at that time -- brief resume.
Of course, the common denominator in comparing that Barca side to this year's City team is that manager -- Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola and Barcelona set a La Liga record in Spain with a 16-match winning streak in 2010-11, a streak was tied by Real Madrid last season. Barcelona won the league title and the Champions League that year, prevailing 3-1 in the final over a Manchester United side that took the Premier League by nine points -- leading United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to call that Barca group the best team he'd ever faced.
After 18 league games, Pep's 2010-11 Blaugrana had 49 points, 3 points shy of Manchester City's current total.
That Barcelona team is considered the best team ever by many -- and their four-year run under Guardiola is nearly unrivaled in modern times -- but City are currently scoring more goals, getting more shots, and seeing less shots on target against per game than that Barca side did through 18 league fixtures.
Guardiola managed another squad -- the 2013-14 edition of Bayern Munich -- that has a claim to be a part of any best-ever conversation. That squad, his first in his three-year run at Bayern, won 19 consecutive matches and finished 19 points clear atop the Bundesliga. Bayern also won the German Cup, but they lost in the semifinals of the Champions League.
That Bayern team had 47 points through 18 league games, which is actually 2 points less than Guardiola's 2015-16 Bayern team had at that point in the season.
Obviously, like we said earlier, this City team will have to continue its current pace to maintain a spot in any best-ever talk, but as of now they are keeping pace with -- or topping, in certain stats -- some of the other legendary sides Guardiola has coached.
|Best Teams Under Pep||Barca 2010/11||Bayern 2013/14||City 2017/18|
|Passes Per Game||747||726||724|
|Goals Per 90 Minutes||2.50||2.76||3.0|
Clearly, there have been other great teams in recent years that weren't coached by Guardiola.
In Italy, the 2006-07 version of Inter Milan won 17 straight matches under Roberto Mancini. The win streak record in France was just set earlier this season as Monaco won their 16th straight, with 12 of those coming at the end of the 2016-17 campaign.
There have been other top-notch sides in recent years, as well, but as you can see, through 18 matches, this City side are right up there with anyone.
Comparing to England's Best
It is hard to give this City team the nod as best team ever without comparing to other top teams from the Premier League.
Only two teams have gone unbeaten since the Football League was founded 129 years ago. Preston North End did it during a 22-game season in 1888-89. However, the team that many consider the best in modern Premier League history is the Invincibles of Arsenal in 2003-04.
That Arsenal team included Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, and Patrick Vieira, three players whose legends grow year after year. Both that Arsenal side and this year's City team rely on speed with outside backs, but Manchester City is more lethal in attack. City's 56 goals far outpaces Arsenal's 34 at this point in the season. Of course, the 56-goal total is greater than any Premier League champion after 18 matches, so City has everyone beat there.
At this point in the 2003-04 season, Arsenal was actually in second place, having drawn six matches for a total of 42 points. As a reminder, City have 17 wins with 1 draw thus far.
The teams are even on goals conceded as keepers Jens Lehmann and Ederson both conceded 12 goals through 18 matches. However, Lehmann had faced 51 shots while Ederson has seen a league-low 37 shots on target, a touch more than 2 per match.
City are beating the 2003-04 Arsenal team in almost every stat category, and they are on their way to setting multiple records in the Premier League if they can maintain this pace. They look poised to beat the record for winning margin, which was set by the 1999-2000 Manchester United team. Sir Alex Ferguson's team won the league by 18 points that campaign. City also seem likely to break the record for goals in a season, which is 103 and was set by Chelsea during the 2009-10 campaign.
According projections from Sky Sports' Monday Night Football show, Manchester City are also on track to break or tie the following records set over a 38-game season.
|Points||52||110||95 (Chelsea 2004-05)|
|Wins||17||36||30 (Chelsea 2016-17)|
|Goal Difference||+44||+93||71 (Chelsea 2009-10)|
|Home Wins||8||18||18 (3 Teams)|
|Away Wins||9||19||15 (Chelsea 2004-05)|
Honestly, it's darn near impossible to do better than City have thus far. I mean, they have won 17 of 18 matches while winning by an average of 2.44 goals per game. For a Premier League that prides itself on its top-to-bottom strength, it sure is getting ripped to shreds by this City group.
There is no end in sight -- at least in the near future -- to City's winning streak.
Their next three matches are against teams that are currently 14th or lower in the league table. After those three, City take on Watford, a team on a three-match losing streak. The Citizens will be a heavy favorite in all of those matches, and they'll have a good chance to set a record -- for Europe's top leagues -- of 20 straight wins.
The January 14th match at Liverpool should be the next real test. City crushed Liverpool 5-0 in the reverse fixture earlier this season, but the match was a fairly even contest early until Liverpool's Sadio Mane got sent off with a straight red card.
City seem to have the personnel to get through the busy holiday season, especially with how well Ilkay Gundogan has filled in for David Silva. They also may be moving for Alexis Sanchez and Virgil van Dijk to further strengthen their team. Heck, Mario Balotelli said he would return to City for free and enjoy the ride.
In addition to their commanding position in the Premier League, City are the odds-on favorite to win the Champions League. They got a big boost with the Round-of-16 draw, landing a fairly soft matchup with Basel while four of the other top teams -- Real Madrid versus PSG and Barcelona against Chelsea -- drew each other.
In the Carabao Cup, City got past Leicester on penalties in the quarterfinals and now get to face Championship side Bristol City in the semifinals (with Arsenal and Chelsea on the other side of the draw). City's FA Cup campaign begins next month, giving the team a chance to win major four trophies this season.
Four trophies seems unlikely as Guardiola will surely prioritize certain competitions, particularly the Champions League, a crown that has evaded Pep since he left Catalonia. However, City don't need to win four trophies to be considered the best team ever.
With half of the domestic season remaining, time will tell, but each dominant, easy-on-the-eyes win moves Manchester City closer to legendary status as not only the Premier League's best-ever single-season side, but possibly the best team in modern soccer history.