Friday, December 15, 2017

SOMETHING IN THE AIR


This article first appeared in an abridged version on the pages of ESPNFC
Manchester City are not just proving to be an insurmountable problem for the rest of the Premier League this season: they are beginning to provide a headache for the journalistic profession too, namely how to continue to find superlatives to best describe this team’s excellence.

The 4-0 win at a canter in Swansea in midweek, a score-line that could easily have been doubled given the clear-cut chances that went begging, saw Pep Guardiola’s side stroll comfortably in second gear for most of the 90 minutes.

A sprightly start from the hosts soon petered out as they became utterly engulfed by City’s landslide of passes. So many sides have experienced the same thing this season: how to avoid the ignominy of chasing shadows when the opposition are clearly operating on a totally different plain to the one you occupy. How do you close down David Silva adequately, while making sure Kevin de Bruyne doesn’t get too much space? And if you get tight on the Belgian, who’s left to stop Bernardo Silva weaving his magic? How do you double up on the persistent danger of Raheem Sterling and still have enough manpower to watch Leroy Sane? How do you stop Sergio Aguero scoring when you cannot predict from which of five or six rich sources he may be fed? How do you block a Brazilian kid, whose dazzling skills and speed of movement is tying your legs in knots?

And, perhaps most importantly of all, how do you launch any kind of an offensive against a side that just won’t stop attacking?

The look of desolation on the face of Swansea boss Paul Clement in the second half at the Liberty Stadium told its own eloquent story. You don’t. You can’t. It’s impossible, or at least, it has proved  thus so far. Perhaps Mauricio Pochettino and his merry men of Tottenham may have a different idea when they visit Manchester this weekend.

But then we said that about a tricky visit to Old Trafford, where City went largely untroubled by a crab-like Manchester United. We said it about Arsenal’s trip north and they were swept cleanly away. Earlier in the season, we had said it too about Liverpool, with all their forward movement and bouncy Klopptimism and they were buried under a five-goal landslide. We had said it too about the visit to reigning champions Chelsea and City dominated the Londoners on their own pitch with De Bruyne's clinical strike the crowning glory to a watertight display.

Every week it seems a new test appears and is passed with flying colours.

We would appear to be in the presence of footballing royalty. Some will argue otherwise, but Premier League fans all over the world are being served up a rare treat by this Manchester City side. Grounds around the country are gaping open-mouthed as their heroes are passed, pressed and pressurised to exhaustion by Guardiola’s incessant side.

To what heights City can take this masterclass is uncertain. Every time you think that what you are seeing is the best thing since sliced bread, the following week it appears toasted with lashings of butter. This Manchester City side just keep pushing back the boundaries to what was thought reasonably possible: play expansive, pass and go football on England’s mean turf? Sure. Keep possession for fifty passes at a time without the burly English stoppers and enforcers smashing you to pieces? Yep. Construct a side with so many attacking outlets that you sometimes wonder if they need a defence at all? Certainly. Employ a goalkeeper that plays a little like a creative midfielder and pings the ball long and short as if he has a remote control in his back pocket? Of course.
And so on and so forth.

How this City side will be viewed by history will have to wait a while. This will not be decided this season, unless the unthinkable happens and City remain unbeaten and win every pot on offer. History will judge when it is ready. The frightening thing for City’s opponents is that the story is only just beginning. This is a young side, with many of the players brought in to replace those, who took part reluctantly in the great summer exodus. It is sobering to see – each time City prepare for a Premier League match – who took part in the respective fixtures a year ago. Nolito, Fernando, Gael Clichy, Aleksander Kolarov, Kelechi Iheanacho, Jesus Navas, even dear old Pablo Zabaleta, seem a very long way from this all-seeing, all-doing action-packed side, but they were all used regularly just last season.

This illustrates how quickly things can change in football. The old guard has been replaced by a generation bristling with talent, self-confidence and energy, which could carry the club to unprecedented highs by the end of the season.
City’s march on the top has been relentless this season and had already gained serious momentum in the ten seasons since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover. It is no flash in the pan and no surprise. Every eventuality has been meticulously planned for, from logistics, foundations, back up, youth, marketing and long-term strategy. The excellence on the field has long been matched by the excellence off it.

For the rest of us mere mortals the chase for new superlatives to describe City’s progress goes on. 




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