Why aren't Man City getting the credit they deserve?

We’re nearing Christmas – the time-honoured period of judgement in the English Premier League – and the Manchester City juggernaut is showing no sign of stopping. They will win the league this year and probably by quite a margin.


Pep Guardiola won titles with Barcelona and Bayern Munich Source: Getty Images

Ahead of tonight’s Manchester derby, a glance at the table reveals that City could open an 11-point gap on the rest of the league should they triumph.

Third-placed Chelsea, by virtue of their shock defeat to West Ham on Saturday night, will be 14 points behind if City go to Old Trafford and win. As in previous years, there will be no ridiculous title run from the back-markers late in the year.

Even if City lose, the five-point gap between the top two would still seem like a huge chasm because of the gulf in class over 38 games. United, for all their improvement, do not have the depth in class that City boast. They would have to find something extra in their locker that has not been on display this year.

Of course, victory at home in any match is not beyond them, and certainly not when their title hopes are on the line. And not when Jose Mourinho focuses all his energies on a single object like he does with Guardiola.

But back to City. And herein lies the oddity; every time you go to talk about them, the conversation veers either into how poorly others are going or what their rivals can do better. Is there any danger in acknowledging how brilliant the Citizens are going?

One suspects there is a fair amount of humble pie being consumed by many football media personalities, who, for reasons known only to themselves, hate Pep Guardiola and all he stands for.

I suspect much of the reason boils down to the fact that they think Guardiola is part of the new school of coaches who over-thinks, over-analyses and over-complicates football. Quite frankly, what he does is over their heads.

The universal love-in when the wheels fell off at the Etihad last year was an exercise in vindication for those naval-gazers, each adamant that Guardiola would never be able to dominate England as he did in Germany and Spain. Well guess what. Now he is. And quite spectacularly.

But now his remarkable record this season (14 wins, one draw, zero losses) seems to be glossed over. It’s all because of an apparently “easy draw” (true, they’ve had only one top six away fixture – against Chelsea, where they won 1-0) or because of the massive sums of money spent during the off-season.

They did spend around £200 million (A$356 million) on five players – but the best acquisition of that lot has been goalkeeper Ederson, finally filling the gap left by Joe Hart, currently on loan at West Ham.

That in itself probably tells a tale. It is City’s existing talent that has taken the step from good to great. This is always underestimated by the bloodthirsty punditry, who seem glued to the fortunes of new signings.

The “hot take” culture doesn’t consider that it might take a few seasons for Raheem Sterling to completely settle in or that Kevin de Bruyne would find new heights in his game.

Two of the mid-year arrivals from last season, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sané, have added 14 goals between them this campaign.

John Stones was absolutely flying until injury; he may be the defender of his generation for club and county. Even Fabian Delph has become this season’s Victor Moses, re-inventing himself as a flying wing-back. Benjamin Mendy’s arrival suddenly seems superfluous.

Very few players on City’s books aren’t playing near their best (save for flops Eliaquim Mangala and Claudio Bravo, with Sergio Agüero's season disrupted by a car crash), which is the absolute hallmark of a great coach.

They finally appear to understand what he wants, a process that has taken a season of disappointment and soul-searching. But the payoff has been spectacular.

And yes, Guardiola appears like a different man. He’s calmer. Less agitated. More engaging with those around him. Those awkward press conferences and interviews of last season? It looked bad, but we can chalk that whole first year up as a learning experience.

But that’s what the Catalonian maestro does. He learns and listens, then he analyses, and eventually, after a battle or two, he ultimately wins the war.

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4 min read
Published 10 December 2017 at 7:59am
By Sebastian Hassett