Paul Parker has been blown away by Manchester City’s form this season, and as well as dominating the Premier League, Champions League success cannot be out of the question.
The fact Manchester City have enjoyed the best start in Premier League history says a lot, but it’s also about the way you do it, not just the results. The way City are playing is not only pleasing on the eye for everyone who watches football, it might just be the best we have ever seen on these shores.
At the weekend, the Leicester City supporters applauded Kevin de Bruyne off the pitch when he was substituted, and that only happens very rarely in football. You think of Portsmouth fans giving Thierry Henry a standing ovation, or Old Trafford rising to acclaim Ronaldo after his incredible hat-trick for
Real Madrid in 2003. That shows you something special is happening.
There has never been a team playing quite like this. There have been good football teams, great football teams, but City are playing in a completely different style, a style which goes against the grain of English football. You are looking not at a front four or even front six who are all capable on the ball, but a full XI.
We have never seen a team play football of this quality in such a consistent fashion before. We have seen teams put in great performances and win titles while entertaining, but there is something else about this City side. Top-level football is so much about pressing and pace now that City are having to make split-second decisions in their passing and movement and they are getting them right almost every time. You have to be almost physically and mentally perfect to execute that.
You also have to be brave. Bravery isn’t an attribute which is often brought up when you discuss City, or any of
Guardiola’s teams, but there is bravery in playing such a dynamic and ambitious form of football. It’s not just that, either. It’s the bravery to keep true to your principles and keep plugging away even if you make mistakes.
Some managers start screaming or shouting and terrify their players when they commit an error, and they change their behaviour as a result. Guardiola doesn’t, and that’s been a consistent hallmark of his teams.
You think back to the clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid in December 2011. Karim Benzema scored after 23 seconds at the Bernabeu after Victor Valdes made a big mistake when trying a short pass from the back. Immediately after the restart, Valdes was at it again, trying to play out from the back under huge pressure. Changing his methods, betraying the project, never even crossed his mind. Barcelona went on to win that match 3-1 in Madrid.
You can see this trait again with City. Last season they failed to win a trophy and plenty were telling Guardiola that he needed to compromise in his style of play. It was said he hadn’t paid English football enough respect and that his brand of football couldn’t succeed in the Premier League. But, again, he stayed true to his principles and look at the result this season.
This is the style Guardiola was brought up with. He has never wavered from it and has demanded it from his players at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City. The starting base was much lower at City, which is why they struggled last season, but their reinvention has been spectacular.
Guardiola has had more time to work with the players and instil his methods. Are City defending in a different way this season? No, not really. They are just comfortable with Guardiola’s instructions and fully committing to his way of playing. The desire to have the ball as much as possible and keep it away from opponents has seen City concede seven goals in 12 games – only beaten by Manchester United with six. You don’t have to park the bus to keep a clean sheet.
We can all fall into the trap of being negative in football, looking for the reasons why something won’t happen or won’t last. But maybe we should look at the reasons this might last, and why we might want it to last for as long as possible. It’s enjoyable to watch but it’s also great for English football to have a team playing some of the best football on the planet. It could have a really positive impact on the national game.
In Europe it’s a similar story with four wins from four in the Champions League. They’ve already qualified for the last 16 and they face Feyenoord at home on Tuesday so you can expect another three points. Their style seems perfectly suited for European success and I don’t think winning the Champions League is out of the question. At Barca and Bayern, Guardiola reached the semi-finals every season at least. When you look at what they did away to Napoli, how can you doubt their potential?
Anything is possible for this Manchester City team. That doesn’t mean they will definitely win the Premier League with 100 points, or claim a first Champions League title, but Guardiola’s methods are delivering some of the best football England has ever seen, and trophies are almost certain to follow.