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

Updated 17 December 2017
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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.


‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

Updated 20 June 2018
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‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

  • A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half gave Uruguay a 1-0 win
  • Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance

ROSTOV-ON-DON: Good, but not good enough.
That was what Juan Antonio Pizzi stated as he declared himself pleased with his team’s performance in the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday night.
But he lamented his side’s lack of firepower as they exited the World Cup after just two matches.
Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance in Rostov-on-Don after losing their opening game 5-0 to hosts Russia in Moscow last week.
The Argentine got his wish with a display that saw the Green Falcons fight throughout and edge possession against a Uruguay side ranked 14th in the world.
A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half after poor goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais, however, was enough to hand the Green Falcons a 12th successive World Cup defeat.
The result means that even with a win against Egypt on Monday, the Green Falcons are no longer capable of progressing to the knock-out stages from Group A.
“We had a lot of ball possession and were able to impose our style of play and distribution,” said Pizzi. “We conceded a goal from a random play and didn’t have the weapons or tools to try to equalize. We kept the ball well and weren’t really troubled defensively, but lacked that ability to score.”
Indeed, for all their possession, Saudi Arabia have managed just three shots on target in 180 minutes of football. Against Russia, they failed to muster a single effort on target and the managed just three against Uruguay, two of which came in the final minutes when they knew they had to score or face elimination. None of the three shots came from a striker.
“This is our weakness. We have good ball possession, but no effectiveness. We lack the depth and skill required to win these games,” Pizzi added. “We have that deficiency and have looked for solutions, but we haven’t quite come up with one yet. But that is one of the reasons great forward are in high demand and are the elite players in world football.”
Pizzi had made four changes ahead of the match, dropping goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf in favor of Al-Owais and introducing Ali Al-Bulayhi at the heart of the defense alongside Osama Hawsawi. Further upfield, Hattan Bahberi came in for Yahya Al-Shehri and Fahad Al-Muwallad replaced Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The changes, particularly the inclusion of Bahberi, seemed to give the side more impetus in midfield.
“The difference between the performance in the first game and this game is enormous,” Pizzi said. “The only way to compete at this level is to play at the level we did here. And even then it was not enough even to get a draw. Undoubtedly there were other factors aside from the pressure of playing in the opening game that made a difference, but it’s true that the difference was enormous.”
Many critics had predicted a deluge of goals from the likes of Suarez and Cavani, yet both were kept at bay. Save for a couple of half-chances early on, neither came close to scoring until the 23rd minute.
A corner from Carlos Sanchez sailed into the area and when Al-Owais came for it but failed to connect with his punch, Barcelona forward Suaréz was left with the simplest of tap-ins. He was so caught off-guard, he actually looked surprised as he reeled away in celebration.
“I believe you cannot be relaxed in any match,” Suarez said when asked by a Uruguayan journalist whether he had taken it easy against the Saudis.
“We wanted to win and to progress to the knock-out stage and this game simply showed how difficult it is. That’s the World Cup for you though and we are obviously delighted with how we have performed so far to progress.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez did not share his striker’s sentiments.
“Saudi Arabia wanted to excel and give a better account of themselves after losing to Russia,” he said.
“They did that very well and we have to respect them. But what surprised me the most is how we played. We underperformed.”