It is hard to think of a more dominant performance in the Premier League era than City’s efforts this season. With 23 wins from 27 games, nearly 80 goals and a 16-point gap over their nearest challengers, Pep Guardiola’s side have cruised out of sight, and it is almost inconceivable that they would let the title slip from here. Although they still have games to come against Man United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea, such is the size of their lead, they could afford to lose all four and still lift the Premier League trophy.
Of course, Pep would not allow such carelessness to creep into their play. In fact, City have their sights firmly set on a historical quadruple. First up, they have the Carabao Cup Final at the end of February. That match will represent a tough challenge as they take on an Arsenal side that has developed an impressive cup final pedigree in recent seasons, despite their slide down the Premier League pecking order. However, if they can see off Arsène Wenger’s side to lift that piece of silverware, they will then be able to turn their attention to the last 16 of the FA Cup and the Champions League. With the Premier League in the bag, what are their chances of reaching two or even three major finals this season and claiming that quadruple?
Although this is undoubtedly the easier of the two other cup competitions, the FA Cup comes with its own pitfalls. For a start, their fifth round tie has potential upset written all over it. Wigan Athletic may be in League One, but it is only five years ago that they won this competition as a Premier League side and they will relish the opportunity to claim a major top-flight scalp en route to the quarter-finals. Wigan are full of confidence and have home advantage, so Pep will need to put out a reasonably strong side to ensure that they progress.
The other challenge in the FA Cup is fixture congestion. The Wigan game, for example, comes six days after the first leg of the crucial Champions League tie in Basel and six days before the Carabao Cup Final. City have the resources, of course, but it will still take meticulous planning and a little injury luck to maintain a push to the FA Cup Final while campaigning in the Premier League and the Champions League, particularly if they are drawn against one of the other top six sides.
This is the big one. To reach the next level and cement their place among the European elite, City need a Champions League trophy, or at the very least an appearance in the final.
While no opponents in the knockout stages of the Champions League can be taken for granted, being drawn against Basel gives them a great opportunity to reach the last eight. City are big favourites with the bookmakers to get past the Swiss side, but after that, things are likely to get even tougher. Given their record against the top Premier League teams this season, City won’t fear facing any of the remaining English teams, but Barcelona and Real Madrid present a different challenge. Between them, the Spanish giants have ended City’s Champions League challenge in three out of the last four seasons.
Fortunately, City have the ideal man at the helm to plot a way past La Liga opponents. If and when they do come up against Barcelona or Real Madrid – or Pep’s other former club, Bayern Munich – they will be well-prepared to deliver a season-defining performance. And while City’s lack of experience of winning major European trophies as a team is a minor weakness, given the wealth of individual experience in the squad, and the manager’s stellar CV, they have the credentials to transcend the disappointments of recent seasons in the Champions League.
Of course, pulling off an unprecedented quadruple will take a dose of good fortune. Given the intensely competitive nature of top-flight football, it would be a colossal achievement to maintain a winning challenge in four competitions simultaneously, but City have the resources to do it, and in Guardiola they have a meticulous planner who exudes calm and authority. Having shown us what they can do so far, it would certainly be a brave move to bet against them reaching at least one more major cup final before this incredible season draws to a close.