Pep Guardiola sounded a bit like joking, but maybe he wasn’t.
When asked what was the most important reason Manchester City were able to extend their winning streak in all competitions to 19 games after a 2-0 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Champions League, the manager is got right to the point.
“We have a lot of money to buy a lot of amazing players. That’s the reason,” he said bluntly.
No one will accuse Man City and their parent company City Football Group of being cheap, that’s for sure. But all the money in the world hasn’t got Man City off to a quick start to the season. Eight games, City had a negative goal differential, were eight points behind league leaders Tottenham and were in 13th place.
Just a few months ago, City were languishing in fifth place, not far from being in danger of no longer being in contention for the Champions League places, but also far from being a candidate to run away with a third league title in four seasons. . Yet in a season of attrition, where each club has faced a more crowded-than-usual schedule, complications from COVID-19 and the mental and physical strain that accompanies it, City have parted ways with the platoon – and quickly.
Entering Tuesday’s game against Wolves, City have won 14 straight league wins and haven’t lost since that eighth game against Tottenham. He is undefeated in 27 in a row and has won 20 in a row in all competitions. A home win on Tuesday would put City within two of Bayern Munich’s all-time record (among Europe’s top five leagues) of 23 consecutive wins. It would also send City provisionally 15 points ahead of a table that for months lacked a clear and distinguished leader. His run is in some ways analogous to the scenario of City’s 4-1 victory over defending champion Liverpool on February 7 at Anfield: an emotional process, followed by a slight setback – then a crushing and crushing attack for to finish. work with emphasis.
So yes, it helps to have a lot of money, but it goes beyond that, and it also takes some unexpected things to follow your path. Ilkay Gundogan, of all players, is the club’s top scorer, with 11 league goals. This is the same Ilkay Gundogan, 30, whose previous one-season scoring record at one of his clubs was six and who has never been considered an attacking juggernaut.
The club’s Portuguese contingent also performed admirably, particularly in defense, where left-back João Cancelo was a revelation for the game and the summer signing Rúben Dias finally provided the stability of the center-back who had been lacking since the departure of Vincent Kompany. John Stones having a rejuvenating season was also an unexpected surprise, given he was out in the cold before receiving a lifeline at the end of November. He hasn’t looked back since, and neither has City.
The results are easily quantifiable. The club’s 16 goals conceded are by far the fewest in the Premier League (Chelsea are next closest with 25, also in 26 games), and their 0.61 allowed goals per game rank among the top five European leagues.
Factoring in right-back Kyle Walker and third-choice center-back Aymeric Laporte, that’s over $ 400 million spent in transfer fees just to build that backline. Maybe Guardiola was on to something with his blunt fundraising remarks after all.
But it’s also not as if City are immune to attrition. Between injuries and COVID-19, club stalwarts Sergio Agüero and Kevin De Bruyne have missed a handful of games, with Aguero limited to just six Premier League appearances and De Bruyne, the league’s assist leader, missing nearly a month before recently returning to action. a few weeks ago. Around Christmas and New Years, Walker, Cancelo, offensive stars Ferran Torres and Gabriel Jesus and starting goalie Ederson all missed their time after a COVID-19 breakout.
It’s no wonder Guardiola called this winning streak “the greatest achievement we’ve ever made” following Saturday’s win over West Ham which brought the winning streak to 20.
“That doesn’t mean we won the title, of course, but in the winter in England every three days a game, COVID-19 situation, injuries … winning, winning, winning shows strength, mentally.” , did he declare. .
Liverpool had been England’s main ‘mental monster’ having won the Champions League and Premier League titles in consecutive seasons, but there is no level of mentality that can equip a team to do so. facing all key injuries, just like Jürgen Klopp’s side have faced this season. With Liverpool down, Leicester also significantly hampered, Chelsea unable to turn a summer spending spree into immediate results, Tottenham endure struggles since title thoughts were briefly entertaining and Manchester United improved but failed the ruthlessness needed to turn more of their eight draws into wins, Man City seized the opportunity to climb to the top.
The job isn’t done yet and City will know it better than anyone. He followed Liverpool by a significant margin in the 2018-19 title chase before charging hard to lift the trophy. Guardiola may be aware of the club’s finances and the benefits that come with it, but he also has his hand on the pulse of his players.
“When I feel like everyone thinks the job is done, or how good he is, this guy is not going to play,” Guardiola said at Monday’s press conference. “I’m so intuitive to know exactly the guys who aren’t ready to go on with what we need to do.
“The champion is Liverpool, we are not,” he continued. “To do that, we still have to win eight, nine or 10 games, and that’s a lot of games. There are some amazing teams that fight for four or five games to win games. It can happen to us too.
“Last season it happened. At the start of the season it happened. We couldn’t win three games in a row in the first two months. That’s why.”