Manchester City host Chelsea on Sunday (today) vying to take another step closer towards the league title, by defeating the defending champions. Before the start of the weekend’s clashes, there’s a 22-point gap between the two sides, with City’s (75) nearest challengers United (59) 16 points adrift as well.
City beat Arsenal 3-0 to win the English League Cup, or the Carabao Cup, last week. This was the first silverware that Pep Guardiola’s team have won under him, and with the league virtually wrapped up as well, it is all set to be the first of more trophies to come.
City were chasing an unprecedented quadruple before being stunned by Wigan in the fifth round of the FA Cup. However, they are still eying a treble, with the EFL Cup in the bag, and the league trophy almost sealed as well.
Manchester United fans would argue that it’s not really a treble if the cup among the three trophies is not the main domestic knockout tournament. United’s League, Champions League and FA Cup treble from 1999 remains the only such achievement in English football.
Since the dawn of the UEFA Champions League, United were the first side to achieve this treble. It has since been won by Barcelona (2009 and 2015), Inter Milan (2010) and Bayern Munich (2013).
In England, Liverpool did achieve the cup treble in 2001, with the team winning the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and the League Cup. United themselves last year raised three fingers — led by Jose Mourinho — after their Europa League win to denote having won three trophies: Europa League, League Cup and the Community Shield.
For Manchester City to win the league and Champions League over the next three months, would constitute the second greatest season in English football history, in terms of trophies.
For all intents and purposes, it is only the Champions League that remains to be fought for City, considering that they had settled the league long before the Round of 16 matches began last month.
Therefore, Guardiola now has the luxury of tinkering with his side in the league and focus all his energy on the remaining clashes in the Champions League, which remains the toughest — and the most illustrious — trophy to win in European football, if not all of football.
On coming Wednesday night, City face FC Basel, having beaten the Swiss side 4-0 away in the first leg. Therefore, City can focus on Sunday’s clash against Chelsea, and look to get the three points that would put them closer to the league crown.
After what should be a routine matchup against Basel midweek, City will travel to Stoke for a Monday night clash eying further inroads into the league title, with the knowledge of who they would be playing in the Champions League quarters.
City play at Everton (March 31), host United (April 7) and are away to Spurs (April 14) in what would under regular circumstances be a tough trio of fixtures at the backend of the season. However, the league should be a formality — if not already wrapped up — by the time the United-Spurs clashes come back to back.
City could even potentially win the title by beating United at home, which would of course be double cause for celebrations. Better still, they might even get a guard of honour! But that depends on United dropping points in March.
In the Champions League quarters, City could face the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, with the task only getting tougher with the semis and the final — if Guardiola’s team make it that far.
City could even face an English side in the quarters, with Liverpool having all but sealed their entry into the quarters, United and even Spurs perhaps favourites ahead of their second leg clashes, and Chelsea still with a chance against Barcelona.
Liverpool’s league win against City — the latter’s only defeat this season — shows teams that can play ball have the potential to beat the league leaders. In that regard, Liverpool and Spurs might have the game plan to challenge City, while United and Chelsea might not.
However, the clash everyone would want to see will be City versus Barcelona, which would be the ultimate challenge for the English champions, and could make a mouthwatering finale for Europe’s premier club competition.
Real Madrid of course would disagree, and underline that they are the two-time defending champions. With Madrid struggling in Spain, all their eggs are in the Champions League basket, and should they overcome PSG in the second leg — which they have a better chance of doing following Neymar’s injury — Real might be as dangerous as any side come the last eight.
But City have showed throughout the season that they have the arsenal to beat anyone in Europe.