Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City are unlikely to win the quadruple after they beat Leicester to make the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.
There’s always been a bit of song and dance in England about who would fill the Christmas No. 1 slot in the Premier League. This year we’ve known for ages who it would be.
Manchester City, pushing back the boundaries of beautiful football, have pulled so far clear that you need a telescope to see the rest.
Denied a trophy for the first time in his coaching career last season, Pep Guardiola will not let this team rest until he has the Premier League crown in his hands.
At the current rate of progress — City have dropped just two points all season — that could be as early as March 30, which is a week before the return Manchester derby game against United.
No silverware is won in December, so it is too early for comparisons, but the debate may soon turn to where this City team stand in the pantheon of great English champions.
Could they match Arsenal’s “Invincibles” who went through the entire of 2003-04 season unbeaten, albeit with 12 draws?
A couple of Manchester United title-winning teams would enter that “greatest ever” argument, notably the treble winners of 1998-99 with Roy Keane at his peak and Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke terrorising defences.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side of 2004-05 won a Premier League record 95 points with a team that included John Terry, Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele, Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben.
But this Manchester City team could be one for the ages. It has got to the point where some opposition fans in away games are applauding them off the pitch.
Pep Guardiola’s intense management style has turned Manchester City into a team for the ages.
Nearly all teams hit a rough patch and the Champions League knockouts could become a spring distraction, but you need a vivid imagination to see how Guardiola’s men could mess it up from here. The way they have beaten their top six rivals this season suggests they are simply inhabiting a different football planet.
Yes, the financial outlay to assemble this team has been enormous, but it hardly as simple as City “buying” the title.
Just as significantly, surely, is the quality of the coaching. Players like Fabian Delph, Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones, Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho are hitting heights many critics did not believe possible.
Then there is Kevin de Bruyne, whose ability to destroy a defence with perfectly struck visionary passes would put him in any current World XI. He was already a top player before Guardiola arrived. Now he’s looking a great one.
The huge, brave Brazilian keeper Ederson is also making a significant difference — think of that brilliant double save at Old Trafford — and his authority has added confidence to a defence which until this season had been City’s Achilles heel.
Sterling suddenly looks a goal scorer to supplement Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, while Leroy Sane’s elegant wing play is leaving defenders like Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier with twisted blood.
What has become very clear is that the coach’s manic intensity has transferred itself to his players. That’s why Pep was able to snap back at an interviewer who wondered whether complacency might become a problem.
“No. Never, It won’t happen,” he said, and you knew that he would come down hard on any player he suspected of taking it easy.
This time last year, a rather prickly Guardiola seemed to be struggling to come to terms with the Premier League as his team faded, blaming officials and giving terse TV interviews which did him few favours.
Now this innovative coach knows the league, the rival teams and the British media — he just looks more comfortable in his skin. In short, he gets English football.
That has proved very bad news for his rivals, who are struggling to land even a glancing blow. Manchester City could win the league by 20 points, so this year’s title race might be cancelled.
I suggest you simply sit back and admire the football.
Ian Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, is ESPN’s lead soccer voice in the U.S. Reach him on Twitter @IanDarke.