When Manchester United became the first English club to complete the treble in 1999, Manchester City were competing in the English third tier after getting relegated from the second division the year before. Fast forward 24 years, the ‘Sky Blues’ look equipped to replicate their neighbours’ achievements under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, and in a manner not witnessed before on English shores.
Their performance in midweek against the current holders of the Champions League, Real Madrid, was arguably the best in the latter stages of the cup competition since Guardiola’s Barcelona put Sir Alex Ferguosn’s Manchester United to the sword in the 2011 Champions League final in Wembley.
City face three-time European champions Inter Milan in the UCL finals – a club that have found their feet in the last few years with a bunch of big club misfits and wayfarers. Among them is a former City hero, Ediz Dzeko. The Bosnian famously scored the late equalizer against QPR on the final day of the 2011-12 season en route to City’s maiden Premier League title. The 2011-12 City side had many great players, but the current iteration is a tier above that team.
English teams have won Europe’s biggest prize before, but none have dominated their competition like Guardiola’s latest assemblage. Of course, it’s easy to forget that much of the discourse surrounding City earlier in the season was dominated by new signing Erling Haaland’s unsuitability to Guardiola’s methods; that conversation died within the first month of this season. The team has settled on a cohesive shape by pushing centre-back John Stones into midfield since the last international break and looked imperious since.
With three games left in the league, City just need one win to become the first English side since Manchester United to win three leagues on the bounce in the Premier League. For large parts of the season, it looked like Arsenal were set to end their 19-year championship drought, but a late collapse and a resurgent City coincided to leave City with little to do in the season’s final weeks. Shouts of ‘Arsenal bottling the league’ have been making the rounds in recent weeks, but the Gunners did well to keep up with City for most of the season.
City face arch-rivals Manchester United in the FA Cup final on June 3rd. This isn’t just an opportunity for the Red Devils to put a spanner in the works but to announce their own rise under Erik ten Hag, who has won the Carabao Cup this season. United, of course, will need a lot of good fortune to stop this blue juggernaut. Like Arsenal, they’re an emerging side, albeit a level below the Gunners in their progression.
There is some time before the big cup games along, and a lot can happen in that period, but Guardiola isn’t the sort of manager to allow complacency to set into the dressing room and training ground. Guardiola has been criticised in the past for overthinking big matches, but this has always felt like a poor reading of what makes his teams formidable; so formidable that anything less than a treble will be considered a disappointment.