LONDON, United Kingdom, Mar 15 – Two seasons ago as Manchester City won the first ever domestic treble of trophies in England, Pep Guardiola branded the possibility of ever doing a quadruple “almost impossible”.
A season characterised by injuries, fixture congestion, player fatigue, coronavirus infections, and for City no pre-season, should have made the feat more improbable than ever.
Yet, City remain on course to prove Guardiola’s prediction wrong.
A commanding 14-point lead at the top of the Premier League means it is a matter of when not if a third title in four years is sealed.
On Tuesday, Guardiola’s men head to Budapest for what should have been the home leg of their Champions League last 16 tie holding a 2-0 first leg advantage over Borussia Monchengladbach.
Next weekend they travel to Everton in the FA Cup quarter-finals, while a League Cup final with Tottenham awaits in April.
City’s 23rd win in 24 games in all competitions at Fulham on Saturday exemplified how Guardiola has managed his side into this position.
Fresh from beating Liverpool at Anfield and just one defeat in six games, Fulham were swotted aside 3-0 despite City making seven changes.
That took Guardiola’s tally of changes in the Premier League this season to a league high 94.
Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez were among the star names to spend the full 90 minutes resting on the bench, while Raheem Sterling was not even included in the matchday squad.
“What we have done the last two, three, four months, everybody is involved,” said Guardiola.
“Sometimes it is difficult but everyone has to make a contribution to win games and we will arrive at the end of the season fighting as best as possible.”
– Pandemic proof squad –
As the crunch of a year without fans through the gates due to Covid-19 restrictions has hit even European football’s wealthiest clubs, it is perhaps no surprise that backed by Abu Dhabi state wealth, City have proved more pandemic proof.
After being thrashed 5-2 at home by Leicester in their second game of the season, Guardiola was afforded the funds to splash out £62 million ($86 million) on centre-back Ruben Dias from Benfica.
City had already previously spent over £300 million on defenders in Guardiola’s reign on Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Joao Cancelo, Aymeric Laporte, John Stones and Nathan Ake.
On top of the arrivals of Dias and Ake, the signing of Ferran Torres took City’s summer spend over £120 million.
But it is Dias’ presence that has had a transformational impact.
The Portuguese international is one of the few men Guardiola refuses to rotate, starting all but one Premier League game since he joined the club in September.
Dias has also brought the best out of John Stones after two poor seasons since a starring role at the 2018 World Cup for the England international.
“We all know our roles and responsibilities,” said Stones after opening the scoring against Fulham.
“We’ve all played so many games. We know the squad’s rotated because of the schedule or whatever it might be the manager decides.”
For all City’s domestic success, Guardiola’s team selection at the weekend made it perfectly clear that the Champions League remains the priority.
The only major trophy to escape the Catalan since he arrived in Manchester five years ago is the one the club’s owners brought him to the club to deliver.
But rarely have City’s resources also given them such an advantage in Europe.
With Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain still involved in tight title races and Barcelona and Juventus already out of the competition, City can afford the luxury of cruising towards the finishing line in the Premier League, while saving their energy for the Champions League.