Manchester City is currently focused on achieving the double-treble, as stated by sports journalist Barney Ronay.

Manchester City is currently focused on achieving the double-treble, as stated by sports journalist Barney Ronay.

Eventually, it happened. However, it must be acknowledged, with respect to the desire for some suspense, exactly as most spectators seemed to anticipate.

As the Premier League season nears its end, the top contenders for the title are looking familiar for Manchester City. It seems that any possibility of an underdog securing a spot on the podium has been eliminated. The remaining challengers are pushing themselves to their limits. With boggled eyes and squeaking hamstrings, they can see Pep Guardiola getting ready to make his final sprint towards the finish line in his signature style.

City’s win at Brentford on Monday brings their record to 11 wins and 1 draw in their last 12 games across all competitions. The three crucial players from last season’s groundbreaking treble-winning team, Kevin De Bruyne, John Stones, and Erling Haaland, are all nearing full fitness and will potentially play together for the first time since the Champions League final in June. Looking beyond the stands, there is a feeling that greater success is on the horizon.

By Tuesday morning City were listed at 9-1 with the bookies not just to win the league, not just to win the double, or indeed the treble, but to win a first ever double-treble. It is measure of this team’s unparalleled certainties, their ability to win games while steamrollering any real sense of competitive variables, that this still feels cautious; that a feat no other team have achieved seems like the default option from here, a thing that is more rather than less likely to happen.

At which point, it is worth asking three questions. First, what exactly is at stake? The answer to which is: sporting immortality. City have 16 league games left to play, plus a maximum of four in the FA Cup and seven in the Champions League. Perform to their capacities and they are within a routine final surge of successive trebles, six Premier League titles out of seven and a coronation as unarguably the greatest team of the modern age. Or indeed, ever.

Football often draws comparisons between different eras, despite the fact that they may not fit perfectly. It can be difficult to accurately compare success in the present to past achievements, such as those of Jock Stein’s Celtic. However, it is still possible to be considered great in any era, and City’s current success puts them in the company of other legendary teams like Bob Paisley-era Liverpool, Golden-age Real Madrid, the Ajax of Johan Cruyff, and the Bayern Munich of Franz Beckenbauer. Over the next three months, City has the potential to leave a significant mark on the sport, much like these other iconic teams have.

The success of neutrals in the highly structured modern game may seem inevitable due to economic factors, but it also highlights issues within the sport’s current structure. Additionally, there are 115 financial rule violations that have yet to be resolved, which nobody wants to address. City has denied any wrongdoing.

However, it is important to keep in mind that everything is temporary. Moments in time often feel unavoidable while they are occurring. Eventually, Guardiola will depart and the current team’s optimal state will transition into something else. Other dominant powers will emerge. This is Manchester City’s opportunity to fully grasp this moment and savor its sweetness.

The inevitable question arises: is there anyone who can halt their progress? There is a vague feeling that the opportunity to do so may have already passed in the Premier League. So far this season, City’s performance can be divided into three stages. The first stage was a necessary compromise due to injuries to De Bruyne and Stones, as well as the team’s attempt to replicate last year’s Haaland-centric structure even without Haaland, resulting in a mid-season stumble. The second stage came with Haaland’s injury, which may have been a blessing in disguise as the team found success with a functional 4-2-3-1 formation and Julian Alvarez as the central striker, winning 10 out of 11 games. And now, we have reached the final stage: with key players fully recovered and in top form, the team is ready to unleash their full potential and dominate once again.

Julián Álvarez celebrates during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at the Etihad Stadium on 31 January 2024

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During City’s remaining matches, a significant period of danger still looms. Five out of their seven upcoming league games, taking place between March 10th and April 20th, are against challenging opponents: Liverpool (away), Brighton (away), Arsenal (home), Aston Villa (home), and Tottenham (away). However, this type of challenging stretch seems to be where City excels and secures titles. Similarly, Arsenal’s final stretch is also daunting, with five out of their last nine matches against strong teams: City (away), Brighton (away), Tottenham (away), Manchester United (away), and Aston Villa (home). Liverpool will also face tough matches at Goodison Park, Old Trafford, and Villa Park.

During these moments, the remarkably cohesive design of the City project is revealed, from the visionary ownership to the fundamental essence of football. Although often overlooked, there is a seamless alignment between Guardiola’s style, which prioritizes control and mastery of the ball, and the billionaire-ball model favored by City’s nation-state owners. Both aim to eliminate any potential for defeat by establishing a structure of impenetrable wealth.

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Khaldoon al-Mubarak (right) and Pep Guardiola during the Premier League trophy presentation following the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on 21 May 2023View image in fullscreen

The current City team represents the final stage of a unique process, marking the end of 10 years without needing to sell players. This has been made possible by securing significant sponsorship deals and maintaining a strong financial foundation through a sovereign wealth fund driven by political motives. This approach is evident in the team’s success in winning titles. In comparison, Arsenal’s backup strikers are Eddie Nketiah and Kai Havertz, while Liverpool is eagerly awaiting Mohamed Salah’s return and relying on the unpredictable style of play from Darwin Núñez. On the other hand, City’s backup striker is considered the second-best in the league, and their top scorer is widely recognized as the best finisher in the world. For Guardiola, the only decision is which weapon to use to defeat their opponents.

Given this situation, one last inquiry arises. Cities are aesthetically pleasing to observe. The athletes are incredibly talented and remarkably disciplined. However, is it truly captivating? Or captivating enough? It was noticeable during the airing of the Brentford match that Sky Sports appeared to be deliberately trying to create a narrative surrounding the city.

There was a lot of discussion about the dynamic partnership between De Bruyne and Haaland, which has proven to be highly successful. De Bruyne is a very skilled and imaginative soccer player, while Haaland is the epitome of City’s dominant and inevitable style of play. The commentators for Sky Sports wondered how to stop these two unstoppable players. However, it became clear that it was impossible to do so. Haaland assisted Phil Foden’s third goal with a clever stationary pass and also played a key role in the second goal by drawing the attention of two Brentford defenders.

Haaland may not possess finesse. He could possibly be the least captivating exceptional footballer ever created, a top player distinguished solely by his impressive statistics, a contradiction of a non-passing footballer on one of the most renowned passing teams. However, he also represents another culmination of Guardiola’s ideology, another embodiment of complete assurance, and quite possibly the defining force as that double-treble approaches.