Barring one of the most anticlimactic moments in English football history, by the time you read this Manchester City would’ve completed their domestic treble after beating Watford in Saturday’s FA Cup final.
After winning the League Cup in February, City wrapped up their league defence last week after beating Brighton 1-4 on Sunday, and with the expected win in the FA Cup final, they would sweep all team trophies available during the domestic season in England.
Even without the League Cup or the still potential FA Cup at the time of writing, City’s Premier League win alone carries prodigious significance. Their title race with Liverpool was the most momentous of all time, given the combined points tally of the two sides. Despite winning a mammoth 97 points, and losing only a single game all season, Liverpool fell agonisingly – and historically – short of winning their first league in three decades.
It’s not only the accumulated points that made this two-horse race the stuff of legends. What was also truly exhilarating was how both sides won all their matches in the last two months of the season keeping the pressure on one another, with the lead switching hands every time one of City or Liverpool completed their wins. Similarly, it’s not just the number of wins and points that was special this season, but the brand of football exhibited by both City and Liverpool – albeit with their own signature styles – was absolutely scintillating.
Even so, the champions are the champions and the runners-up are the runners-up. Liverpool might feel hard done by, but the fact remains that as astounding as they were, they came up short against a side that was even more incredible, even if by a solitary point – that is precisely what the history books would show as well.
While Liverpool’s hunt for the league title continues, they will take much confidence from this season for another assault next year. And of course, on June 1 they have the opportunity to cap off a wonderful season with the biggest prize in club football: the UEFA Champions League.
Regardless of what happens in that finale between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspurs – which is one half of an all-English dominance of Europe with Arsenal and Chelsea contesting the Europa League final before that – what will remain undisputed is the fact that Manchester City’s era is officially underway in England.
Yes, persistent failures in Europe would continue to sting, but Manchester City are now officially the single biggest dominant force in England under Pep Guardiola. They have established that not just with the sweeping of domestic silverware, and the record-breaking points and goals, but also by becoming the first side in a decade to defend their Premier League crown. An era constitutes a sustained period of success, which Manchester City are not only traversing, but look set to prolong as well.
Of course, much of the credit for City’s successes would go to Guardiola, who has not only inducted his own football philosophy and playing style in the team, he has also infused an unbelievable work ethic, without which sustained success is hard to come by.
Yes he has been backed with millions in transfer fees, but if all the money translates into success, it’s obviously well spent. With Liverpool expected to be on their heels again next season, the goal now for City is to maintain their domestic dominance, while challenging for the Champions League as well. Guardiola needs a Champions League win in addition to his two wins with Barcelona as the one thing currently missing in his own glittering resume.
With another two-horse title race between City and Liverpool expected next season, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the second competitive tier in the Premier League featuring Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United – billed as the Big Six – similarly contest yet another race for Champions League spots.
Of these four, it is only Spurs that can be satisfied with their season even if they lose to Liverpool in the Champions League final. If Tottenham end up as European champions, having long been criticised for not really challenging for silverware on any front, it might actually result in a transformation of ambition at the club. Mauricio Pochettino’s own future at the club remains uncertain, but if he wins the Champions League he could force the club’s hand and make them spend the money he feels is required to regularly challenge for the top.
There’s uncertainty at Chelsea and Arsenal with underwhelming seasons for both under new managers Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery. One of them, however, would win the Europa League this season, which could provide the perfect boost to aim higher next year.
The top sixth club traversing the biggest turmoil is Manchester United. They might be feeling that they jumped the gun with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but now with the Norwegian at the helm, the board needs to back him with the cash that they were unwilling to grant Jose Mourinho despite last season’s runners-up finish.
Regardless of what the chasers do over the summer, Manchester City are well and truly the team to beat in England now. And that appears likely to be the case as long as Guardiola is there, and has the financial backing that he needs.