2017/2018: The year when Manchester City blew us all away
Aesthetically, Manchester City’s 2017/2018 Premier League campaign was a joy to watch.
Pep Guardiola manufactured the closest thing to footballing perfection ever seen in the Premier League, suffocating opponents with a passing and positional master plan until they were too mentally exhausted to withstand an onslaught of slick, ruthless attacking football.
Their glorious campaign will live long in the memory as the year where City blew the rest of the league away. However, we should all breathe a sigh of relief that this season is not like the last. For competition’s sake.
In the summer, it was difficult to imagine anyone seriously threatening City’s throne. Tottenham were unable to spend on new signings, Mourinho’s tenure as Manchester United manager seemed, and turned out to be, doomed. Liverpool, whose defence had improved immeasurably after acquiring the magnificent Virgil Van Dijk, appeared to be the only potential contenders. Still, few envisaged Liverpool bridging the gap of 25 points from the previous season.
After all, with arguably the world’s best manager at the helm and a squad packed with world-class talent, what could possibly derail City?
A national campaign for Liverpool to choke
Apart from a short December blip when they were without Fernandinho, City have been almost as imperious this season as they were in the last campaign. Fortunately, Liverpool have improved enough to make this year’s title run-in the closest in years. The high-profile collapse of Nabil Fekir’s proposed move has actually benefited them; Jurgen Klopp’s usage of three industrial centre-midfielders, coupled with Van Dijk’s performances at the back, has given them a defensive solidity that has characteristically eluded them in recent season.
Despite the Premier League’s reputation as the most unpredictable of Europe’s top five leagues, in recent years, fans have been starved of a proper title race. Even Leicester City’s miracle title win, a season that will be remembered as the most thrilling in a generation, was not a close-run thing. In fact, the last title race decided by the final round of fixtures was in back in 2014, also contested between Liverpool and Manchester City.
As this year’s title promises to go down to the wire, it is baffling that neutral fans are creating what feels like a national campaign for Liverpool to choke. What has driven us to yearn to see one of the country’s most historic clubs fall, once again, at the feet of the country’s most soulless?
The answer tugs at the foundations of fandom. The majority of football fans base their aversions to various teams as a result of who their peers support. Such is Liverpool’s history of success, it would be difficult to find a football fanatic who has not grown up bickering and bantering with their many Liverpool supporting friends.
Each semi-successful Premier League campaign causes Liverpool’s fanbase, among the most vocal in the country, to erupt in a cacophony of false optimism, maintaining that “next season will be their season.” Having not won the title in the Premier League era, many young fans have never witnessed Liverpool as champions. How deafening, they wonder, could this noise become if it were actually to happen?
Manchester City’s fanbase is meek in comparison. Young fans are attracted to successful teams, a term rarely associated with Manchester City before their 2008 change in ownership. There is no doubt that a new generation of young fans will become magnetised by Guardiola’s irresistible football as the last generation were to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. Currently, however, City have little voice on social media or in social gatherings outside of the blue slither of Manchester, making them a more palatable option as champions.
But for the sake of our souls, fans must put aside their resentment. After all, we may be waiting a while to see Manchester City challenged again.
Manchester City: a club for the rich and soulless
Fans seem to have forgotten the vast amount of money that City have spent in recent years, building this star-studded squad without financial restriction.
Perhaps the public’s resentment has been soothed by their last summer transfer window, in which Riyad Mahrez was their only significant purchase. It is telling that a summer where they spent £70 million on a player appears frugal, especially given that they shelled out nearly £300 million the season before.
City rarely receive such income. Their record sale, rather underwhelmingly, stems from letting Kelechi Iheanacho move to Leicester City for £25 million in 2017. Without any significant funds coming in from player sales or a big enough fanbase to make comparable commercial profits to the other top clubs in England, all of their funds have come directly from their owner, who has invested over a billion pounds since his takeover in 2008.
Their rise to the summit of English football sets a dangerous precedent regarding how powerful individuals can reshape the face of the modern game, disregarding the traditional size and popularity of the club.
And what of Pep Guardiola? He has undisputedly proven his brilliance as a tactical coach since his arrival in England. Still, there is a tinge of bitterness that he chose Manchester City as his route into the Premier League. It is as if he was only willing to conquer the Premier League via the easiest route possible, rather than with a club with more heart and tradition. It would not be wholly unsurprising if his next move were to Juventus, after which he would be hailed as a genius for winning titles in four countries, despite inheriting the strongest team in each league.
Who will be champions come May?
For Liverpool, it may well be now or never. Few members of City’s first team are showing any signs of slowing down. They even have ready-made replacements for their ageing players; Bernardo Silva has been fantastic all season and is David Silva’s natural heir; Sergio Aguero has not begun to decline, but when he does, they have one of the most promising forwards in Europe in Gabriel Jesus.
It is this depth that makes City title favourites. Their star player, Kevin De Bruyne, has had a stop-start season with injuries and it has barely hindered them. Liverpool, on the other hand, feel as if they are one injury away from crisis. If Van Dijk were to go down, the meanest defence in the league could fall apart. Alternatively, if they were to lose Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah their attacking threat would be diminished – Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi are hardly top-class replacements.
As long as Guardiola is at the helm and limitations on spending unearned money aren’t properly restricted by governing bodies, it is difficult to imagine City being regularly challenged in the league. As this fascinatingly tight Premier League title race draws to a close, it is time for the neutrals to embrace their inner romantic and cheer for a potentially new Premier League champion.