Following the departure of former Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini, the City board announced Pep Guardiola would become the new manager of the Mancunian club. The Catalonian, who had won a plethora of trophies with Barcelona and Bayern München, sought to replicate this success in England.
Yet, when the Premier League 2016/17 season ended, Chelsea were crowned the champions of England. Manchester City, after spending £221.5 million in the transfer window, finished 15 points behind Chelsea. Pundits and managers alike stated Guardiola would not be able to dominate the Premier League as he had in Spain and Germany. Moreover, fans from rival clubs nicknamed the Catalonian “Fraudiola,” echoing the sentiments made by the pundits.
Guardiola, his staff and players, however, had the last laugh.
After offloading several players and making crucial adjustments to the squad during the Summer 2017 Transfer Window, the Blues began to challenge for the title. What transpired was a remarkable record-breaking season, and City were eventually crowned the new champions of England. But what were the key instances that helped them win the title?
26 August 2017: Bournemouth vs Manchester City
Following a disappointing performance at home against Everton, the Blues traveled to Dean Court to face the Cherries. By half time, Bournemouth and Manchester City were level and many pundits questioned Guardiola’s methods. The Catalonian had spent hundreds of millions of pounds to rebuild his squad, but as the match grew closer to full time, it seemed that the Blues would draw two of their first three games at the start of the season.
A winning goal scored by Raheem Sterling in the 97th minute, however, would be the catalyst in what turned into a 20 match unbeaten run in all competitions.
26 November – 3 December 2017: Huddersfield Town vs Manchester City, Manchester City vs Southampton and Manchester City vs West Ham
While three separate occasions, these matches occurred within a seven-day period, and their outcomes were nearly carbon copies of each other. The stubborn defences of Huddersfield Town, Southampton and West Ham kept the Blues at bay, yet once again Raheem Sterling was the hero by scoring late match-winning goals in two of these three games. David Silva also helped City continue their winning run in the league.
The Blues had struggled to break down many of the mid-table teams last season, and this saw them drop many points. With their display in these matches, however, it seemed that they had overcome this hurdle.
31 December 2017: Crystal Palace vs Manchester City
Alas, City’s 18 game winning streak would end at Selhurst Park as the Eagles held the Blues to their first goalless draw of the season. Moreover, Ederson’s last minute heroics prevented City’s first loss of the season, as the Brazilian keeper saved Luka Milivojević’s penalty.
Marking the mid-way point of the 2017/18 campaign, City had won 17 of their first 19 league matches and drew the remaining two. Talks of City matching the Arsenal Invincibles emerged, and the Blues certainly had an aura that they could go unbeaten for the entire season.
25 February – 4 March 2018: Arsenal vs Manchester City (EFL Cup Final), Arsenal vs Manchester City and Manchester City vs Chelsea
Manchester City underwent their first bump of the season with an unexpected loss to Wigan in the FA Cup Fifth Round. Moreover, Liverpool’s classy performance in January exposed Guardiola’s men, indicating the Blues were not as invincible as several pundits had thought.
Yet another congested week provided an opportunity for the Blues to bounce back from this blip. First, they marched over the Gunners at Wembley Stadium in the EFL Cup Final. The Mancunian club then repeated these antics at the Emirates four days later, and with a narrow home win over Chelsea on Sunday, the Blues seemed destined to be crowned the 2017/18 Premier League champions.
14 April 2018: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City
Their second blip in their season occurred in April. Manchester City were outplayed by Liverpool in the Champions League Quarter-finals. Over the two legs, the Blues had been denied two goals by the offside flag, and the rampant Reds controlled the tie, thus knocking out the Mancunian club.
To add insult to injury, Manchester City lost their once in a life time opportunity to clinch the title over their fiercest rivals. After taking a commanding two goal lead over Manchester United, the Blues conceded three goals in the second half, and this further contributed to their woes. Overall, it was a very uncharacteristic collapse. Having been bested by their rivals, and then losing the Champions League tie against Liverpool, some questioned City’s calibre and wondered if they would replicate the title collapse of Newcastle United during the 1996/97 season.
Their display over Tottenham Hotspur the following week however, put these doubts aside. The Blues secured a comfortable 1-3 victory. City’s win over the Spurs also extended their record against the top six this season to 8 wins, 0 draws and 2 losses, which was a vast improvement from last season (where they went 2-4-4).
Can Guardiola and the Blues replicate their success next season? Only time will tell.