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Manchester City’s record run only tells half the story — they are already among the greats

LONDON: The Premier League title race is all but run. Manchester City have dropped only two points in their 17 games so far, they’ve scored 52 goals and their lead is 11 points. Tottenham, who came second last year, are fourth, 18 points behind — they are closer to second bottom than they are to City. The question no longer seems to be whether City will win the league but by how much, and to try to assess whether they might be the greatest Premier League team ever.
Already the records have begun to tumble. Their victory over Swansea on Wednesday was their 15th in a row; the previous record had been the 14 consecutive wins Arsenal racked up between February and August 2002. The record number of points won in a Premier League season is the 95 points tallied by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2005. If they keep winning points at the present rate, City would amass 110. That, surely
won’t happen, but equally it already feels as though it would take a major downturn for them not to break the 95-point mark, and 100 is very much within their sights.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea of 2009-10 hold the record for the most goals in a season with 103. City have 52 from their 17 games so far; projected out, that would take them to 116, not just beating the record but destroying it. There is an odd coda to that detail, though, which is that until Wednesday they had scored fewer goals at the same stage of the season than Roberto Mancini’s City of 2011-12 and the Italian ended up being sacked at the end of that season.
The biggest winning margin in Premier League history, meanwhile, is the 18 points Manchester United won it by in 1999-2000. That is under serious threat. Most wins in a season is the 30 managed by Antonio Conte’s Chelsea last season; with 16 wins in 17 games, City are well on course to beat that. In every metric of dominance, City are threatening to set new records.
There’s a strange sense now that they may almost be too dominant. In his first season at Bayern, Guardiola won the league with seven games to spare. Intensity dropped, and they ended up being hammered 5-0 by Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal. It’s an odd problem to have and perhaps the best that can be said of it is that Guardiola is at least forewarned now of the dangers.
But the greatness of this City goes beyond numbers. They are a thrilling side to watch. They play football of astonishing beauty. Six players have scored five goals or more for them this season: it is not just that they score brilliant goals and lots of them, it is that you can’t even predict where they’re coming from. This is not about great players, or not just about great players, but about the unit. City fulfil the requirement of Arrigo Sacchi that tactics should have a multiplicatory effect, the efforts of all players contributing to make each player better.
Greatness in general, in fact, is not just about numbers: Such things are subjective, of course, but there’s a good argument that the greatest team in Premier League history was Manchester United’s Treble winners of 1998-99, less because of any record they racked up, than because they competed so thrillingly and so successfully on three fronts at once at a time when that was very unusual.
There has been some sneering that this City cannot, after less than half the season, really even be considered as one of the greatest Premier League sides and, of course it is true that if they were to collapse they would immediately fall out of the conversation. But the truth is that this is not just a sudden run of brilliance as, for instance, Liverpool enjoyed under Brendan Rodgers in 2014-15. There is a context: The sense that this is the culmination of an eight-year plan instituted when Sheikh Mansour took over the club, that the whole structure of the modern club was created to create an environment for Guardiola to thrive.
With Premier League records falling, with football of glorious virtuosity, the only thing that might hold City back is Europe. But for now, they look majestic.