Johannesburg - It is compelling to argue that Manchester City are the greatest side to be crowned champions in the Premier League era.
City’s statistics are there for all to see, and they offer a measure of just how revolutionary and dominant Pep Guardiola’s “juego de posicion” (positional play) philosophy has been.
It is extraordinary that in an era of the “big six” (City, Man United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal), the Citizens have steamrollered to English Premier League (EPL) glory and are on course to break records for points gained and goals scored.
While critics may say that a net spend of £360 million (R6.1 billion) on players was partly the reason behind the success, City’s buying policy has been significantly different from a Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) or a United in terms of spending a fortune on a couple of superstars.
The club’s most expensive buy was Aymeric Laporte for £57 million and this highlights a shrewder strategy. When Jose Mourinho made snide remarks about City’s purchase of £50 million fullbacks such as Kyle Walker or Benjamin Mendy being advantageous, it does not paint over the fact that his preferred starters in the position are 30-plus converted wingers (Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia).
In other words, instead of spending more than €105 million (R1.6 billion) on a Paul Pogba or €222 million as PSG did with Neymar, City bought world-class quality players who added depth in key positions.
Indeed, the fullback role is a crucial component in the all-out possession style of the champions from north-west England.
For example, when they build up play on the left, the fullback moves into central midfield and Leroy Sane stays way out wide and pins the opposing defender. This inevitably causes an overload in midfield, which so often frees the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva to cause havoc with their passing.
Yet pure statistical evidence does not tell the full story about the greatness of this side. While they seem well on course to beat the record haul of 95 points achieved by Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2004/05, many a keen football fan may readily admit feeling the heart stir at the prospect of watching City play live.
While the Blues back then were brutally imposing and attacked with lightning speed through the likes of Damien Duff, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole and Didier Drogba, they perhaps lacked the flair and artistry of this City in full flight.
Even Alex Ferguson’s treble winners in 1998/99 were more of a prototypical English side that could mix it physically with, say, a Stoke City on a freezing Monday night in the rain and mud, and then take the breath away at times with the contrasting wing play of David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, as well as the metronomic passing of Paul Scholes.
Arsenal’s Invincibles of 2003/04 were a team ahead of their time in playing a continental style, but even then they had Patrick Vieira, Sol Campbell and Kolo Touré to act as enforcers when?beautiful football wasn’t working.
In other words, the traditional adage in English football is that the best teams combine being a joy to watch with a capacity to scrap and get results in tough circumstances. United’s 2007/08 generation of Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney exemplified this as they played in front of a defence that conceded just 22 goals that season.
Guardiola’s strategy represents a paradigm shift from the old order of things and this perhaps underlines why City may just be the greatest team to have won the title during the EPL era. They have blown away virtually every team, rain or shine, while never compromising on the aesthetics of their football.