Manchester City are unstoppable.
After a 3-1 throttling of Arsenal this weekend, Pep Guardiola’s side are 8 points up on Manchester United, undefeated in all competitions this season, and showing no signs of weakness.
Arsenal weren’t even bad yesterday. Anyone who has spent time watching Arsenal (like this writer, sadly) play against their biggest rivals knows that the Gunners have a knack of absolutely falling apart, but they weren’t totally terrible yesterday.
It didn’t really matter.
City never got out of 1st gear, were ridiculously sloppy and imprecise in the final third, and still won fairly comfortably. Says it all.
— EiF (@EiFSoccer) November 5, 2017
City dominated Arsenal, completely containing them in their own half, kept pressure on the Gunners all game, and never looked particularly bothered while doing it.
— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) November 5, 2017
Midfielder Kevin De Bruyne scored with a left-footed strike early in the game, Sergio Aguero converted a penalty after half-time, and Gabriel Jesus added a third after Arsenal pulled a goal back.
There were some doubts about the penalty and the third goal came with a hint of offsides, but those decisions don’t change how utterly dominant City were.
After the game, Pep Guardiola bemoaned the fact that his team didn’t score more, “We could have scored five or six today. We just needed to be more clinical.”
A more clinical Manchester City is a scary proposition. Through 11 games in the Premier League, City have scored 38 goals, 15 more than second best Manchester United.
This has the soccer media asking questions like “Will unstoppable Manchester City seal Premier League title by Christmas?” and Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho claiming he’s “worried” about City’s early lead.
So how are City so good?
The attacking options Guardiola has at his disposal are ridiculous. The great Sergio Aguero leads the line in attack, this weekend Aguero became the all-time leading scorer in Manchester City history.
At 29, Aguero is getting up there in soccer years, but he’s still one of the most clinical strikers in Europe and he’s leading the Premier League in goals this season.
Flanking Aguero’s 8 goals and 3 assists are the young speedsters Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling. Sané may be the fastest player in the Premier League and at 21, he’s just coming into his own under Guardiola. Similarly, the 22-year-old Sterling is finally capitalizing on the mouth-watering potential that has been there for years.
For both Sané and Sterling, there has always been the idea that if they could just “figure out the end product” there is virtually no ceiling to what they could do as players. Now, both wingers are putting it all together and the results have been wild, Sané has 6 goals and 5 assists and Sterling has 7 goals and 2 assists in the Premier League.
Backing up Sergio Aguero is young Brazilian Gabriel Jesus, one of the most exciting prospects in the world. Jesus only came over to England in January, but since moving to Etihad Stadium, he’s scored 14 goals in 20 games, averaging a goal every 89.57 minutes, the best rate in the history of the Premier League.
While Jesus may not maintain that pace forever, it’s representative of the fact that Pep Guardiola can adjust his lineup slightly and never sacrifice goals. Aguero, Sané, Sterling, and Jesus are four of the top seven scorers in the Premier League.
Not to mention Portuguese creator Bernardo Silva (one of the architects of Monaco’s great team from last year) also lingers as an option off the bench for Guardiola. City’s depth in attack is fucking outrageous and if rumors are to be believed, they’ll be adding Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez in January.
— Premier League (@premierleague) November 6, 2017
But Man City’s attacking options are allowed to flourish because of their midfield. Pep Guardiola’s soccer philosophy is predicated on high-pressing that keeps your opponent in their own half and then holding the ball for as long as possible while unlocking the other team.
This means City have the ball a lot. But City don’t just pass it from side to side, they attack directly, moving the ball from defense to midfield to attack in flowing moves that stun the defense.
In the base of midfield is the Brazilian workhorse Fernandinho. The 32-year-old Brazilian has been with City since 2013, busting up attacks and distributing the ball along with the best defensive midfielders in Europe.
Fernandinho is getting up there in age, but he’s still one of the fittest players in the league and he gives City a needed solidity in the middle of the park. Although he isn’t the biggest player on the pitch, Fernandinho is still one of the most dynamic. With Fernandinho lingering in the middle, attacking against City is never an easy proposition.
Then there’s Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva. De Bruyne and Silva allow City to play the style they want to. Guardiola’s philosophy relies upon central midfielders who can keep the ball, distribute it all over the pitch, and contribute a goal when needed.
De Bruyne and Silva keep City ticking, spraying balls all over the field to find the pacy attackers like Sané and Sterling.
watching this De Bruyne assist for what seems like the thousandth time and it still hasn't gotten old. what a pass. pic.twitter.com/bOEguy8YoW
— amadí (@amadoit__) October 24, 2017
De Bruyne and Silva will lull you into a false sense of security and suddenly flick a pinpoint pass into space as one of City’s attackers bursts through on goal. While this may be Silva’s last go around, the creative Spaniard will turn 32 in January, De Bruyne is quietly becoming one of the best players in the Premier League.
The Belgian creates chances and scores them in equal measure. Written off by Chelsea and Jose Mourinho years ago, De Bruyne has returned with a vengeance and is now leading Man City’s title push.
Guardiola has converted Silva and De Bruyne from luxury attacking midfielders into workhorse center midfielders, something neither player was previously comfortable with. De Bruyne and Silva are City’s version of Andres Iniesta and Xavi from those Guardiola Barcelona teams.
If there’s one supposed weakness in this City side, it’s the defense. John Stones is still young and prone to mistakes, Nicolas Otamendi kind of loses his shit sometimes, and Vincent Kompany is never healthy. But City are tied with Tottenham as the second-best defense in the league, allowing two more goals than United’s league-best defense over 11 games.
Bringing in the 24-year-old goalkeeper Ederson this summer was maybe City’s best piece of business. Ederson is a brick wall and is great with his feet, a crucial part of Guardiola’s possession-based philosophy.
Another fascinating development this season has been Guardiola converting Fabian Delph into a left back. Delph had been surplus to requirements at City virtually since his move to the Etihad from Aston Villa in 2015. He was never good enough to play center midfield for Guardiola. But an ACL injury to prized left back Benjamin Mendy meant that Guardiola had to adjust and Delph’s development into a left back has become a crucial part of City’s season.
Much like Phillip Lahm during Guardiola’s time at Bayern, Delph will come central when City have the ball, basically acting as another player at the base of midfield in order to solidify the middle of the park. It’s a weird and unique wrinkle that makes Guardiola the best and most intriguing manager in the world.
Last week, City handily beat Napoli 4-2 in the Champions League. Napoli are also one of the best teams in Europe, sitting atop Serie A and undefeated in league play, but City contained the swashbuckling Napoli side twice (2-1 at the Etihad in October, 4-2 last week), showing they can compete with virtually any team on the continent.
Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri, who many consider to be Pep Guardiola’s heir as the best attacking coach in the world, said Manchester City are ahead of everyone else,
“Nobody is unbeatable. But they’re the best team in Europe, led by the best coach in Europe.”
When Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour purchased Manchester City in 2008, Champions League glory was the ultimate prize he wanted.
City got to the semifinals of the Champions League in 2015/2016, but have never truly been close to bringing Europe’s biggest trophy to the Etihad. This season, City truly prose a threat in the Champions League.
With Guardiola at the helm, young players developing into some of the best in the world at their position, and state-based oil riches bankrolling the entire operation, Manchester City seem to be settling into a period of prolonged dominance.
Europe’s superpowers better take notice.