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.


India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

Updated 18 September 2018
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India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

  • India brace for Pakistan after surviving stern test against minnows Hong Kong
  • Usman Shinwari: Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high

DUBAI: As delirium sweeps the UAE ahead of the mouth-watering encounter between arch rivals India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup, it seems one man — at least outwardly — is not as excited as the rest of the country and cricketing fans the world over.
India captain Rohit Sharma played with a straight bat when asked about the biggest clash in world cricket, set to take place today at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. On his first Asia Cup media outing the 31-year-old seemed unconcerned by the impending showdown with their fiercest opponents, his focus instead on facing Hong Kong, who Sharma and Co. had a big scare against on Tuesday.
“Right now, we are not focusing on Pakistan as (first) we are playing Hong Kong,” Sharma said on Sunday. “Obviously we have to focus on that particular team but once we have finished that game we will focus on Pakistan and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
These are clearly the words of a man so media trained that by now he could easily be on the other side of the desk, asking the same questions he and his colleagues sometimes enjoy batting back with crafted clichés that speak of focusing on “one game at a time” or the like.
Sharma was clearly right to not take his eyes off the ball with Hong Kong — they are not here to merely make up the numbers, as their brilliant, battling performance on Tuesday illustrated. But at the same time, Sharma will be all too aware that as India skipper the one match you do not want to lead your side to defeat in is the one against Pakistan, regardless of competition and location.
Clearly India are not leaving Pakistan preparations to the 14 hours or so (sleep included) between the close of the Hong Kong clash and the toss prior to resuming Indo-Pak cricketing rivalry. To suggest they are would be naive at best.
A year on from Pakistan’s show-stealing Champions Trophy final victory over the old enemy in June last year, and a whole five years since the two sides met outside of an ICC or ACC event due to strained political relations, the appetite for the first of potentially three matches at this year’s Asia Cup is huge and one borne out of starved hunger.
Pakistan’s Usman Shinwari, fresh off defeating Hong Kong on Sunday, was more candid than Sharma.
“Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high, and every player dreams of doing well in this contest,” the fast bowler said. “I took three wickets (against Hong Kong), I hope that can be five wickets against India.”
Shinwari’s sentiments were echoed by his captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is absolutely clear on the levels of expectation that this fixture demands from fans on both sides of the border.
“The passion is always there,” said Sarfraz. “When you play against India everyone wants us to win as it’s against India.
“The fans say that whatever happens you have to win but as a captain I have to win against every team. It would be the same for India whose fans want them to win. It has happened in the past that any player who performs in the Indo-Pak match becomes a national hero.”
UAE cricket fans cannot wait for the clash. It took just a few hours for the first batch of tickets to be snapped up, the second bought in equally ravenous fashion. It has left a huge number of tickets now being touted across online marketplaces, social media platforms and, ultimately, will likely see the inflated resales being pawned outside the stadium on matchday too.
An expected 25,000 fans will swell the Ring of Fire, set to deal not only with cricket’s most fierce rivalry but also with all the unpredictability that will be thrown their way.
The famed traffic jams around Hessa Street, leading up to the stadium, and local entrances of Dubai Sports City will heave and efforts have been made to ease the burden of vehicles that will cart both sets of fans in and out of the area. Gates will open from 12p.m. local time, a whole three and a half hours before the first ball has been bowled. In an emirate where the last-minute rush is a daily fact of life, this will be not be an easy thing to execute but that, alongside the immense presence of volunteers and security, should prove welcome additions to the day’s running order.
This, though, is India vs Pakistan. Anything could happen.