Manchester City are now so dominant that they have normalized the idea of a Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup Treble.
That is testament to the standards that Pep Guardiola has set for the top flight of English football. He has created such high expectations at the height of each campaign that he is under pressure to match or eclipse some of the most extraordinary achievements in this country’s sporting history. That means we go in a potentially decisive weekend of a title race with most of the focus on Arsenal ending a 19-year wait to become champions, and City’s potential Treble has barely been mentioned.
Guardiola’s genius is to blame for this. The football world gets blasé about the success of consistently excellent teams. When you’ve won back-to-back Premier League titles, multiple domestic cup wins on your CV, and two Champions League wins (including the Spanish Treble) with Barcelona, the paths to creating more history and inviting more superlatives smaller. For most teams and coaches, any major trophy in a season is a success. Not City and not Guardiola. If City ends this season with only the FA Cup, it feels like a huge underachievement, especially in the season in which they added Erling Haaland.
Treble wins a game changer Ferguson and United
This is not entirely new territory. In the late 1990s, Manchester United’s players created a similar situation, dominating the domestic campaign to the point where becoming champions was the minimum expectation. They were desperate for the trophy that had eluded their club since 1968. That all changed when they won the Champions League as part of the Treble and the ‘Sir’ was added to Alex Ferguson’s name. It was a game changer for the way Ferguson and his reign were judged at Old Trafford.
Regardless of what Guardiola has already won at the Etihad, United can still use the 1999 season as a symbol of historic superiority, as can Liverpool with their memory of winning six European Cups. Both clubs are also aware of how close City are to correcting the blatant absence on their honors board.
Guardiola recently acknowledged that his City reign will be judged on whether he takes the Champions League trophy to the Etihad. He seems to consider this an unfair and excessive demand. I’m sorry, but it isn’t.
“Guardiola will not have delivered what he was lured to England for until he wins the European Cup”
With all due respect, Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini were Premier League winners with City. Any top manager in the world would have been champions if he had been appointed City coach in the last 10 years. Guardiola was not hired just to match that success. His owners in Abu Dhabi expected him to take City to the next level.
He has managed to do this with historic point totals and the domestic treble achieved in 2019, and by executing a style of football that is superior to its predecessors.
But Guardiola will not have delivered what he was lured to England for until he wins the European Cup.
As in previous years, I think winning all three major trophies is a step too far for City. Not because they can’t – I wouldn’t bet on it – but because of how hard it is. There’s a reason only one English club has ever won the three biggest major trophies in the same season. Flawless finishes require both luck and skill.
The Manchester United side that did inspired the club’s most memorable season, but their fans will recognize they weren’t the greatest of the Ferguson era. The team with Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008 was superior.
To win the Treble, United needed every bounce of the ball to go their way, even if it was ultimately deserved. There were incredible comebacks like the one against Juventus in the Champions League semi-final and Bayern Munich in the Barcelona final. They needed a last-minute penalty against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final. The same can be said of the 1984 Liverpool side who won another treble of the competition, the Milk Cup and the European Cup, winning the latter trophies on a replay and penalty shoot-out respectively.
City could have won the Treble in 2019, losing in a European tie they should have won against Tottenham Hotspur. Last year they found themselves in an identical situation to now, only to be beaten in the FA Cup semi-final after Guardiola played a weakened side against Liverpool, then saw victory snatched away in unlikely circumstances by Real Madrid in the last four of the Champions League. . There were regrets in those games. Those experiences should help as they attempt to take a Treble bid deeper.
‘This year’s title race is 50-50 between City and Arsenal’
They are clear favorites for the FA Cup. If Sheffield United, Brighton or Manchester United beat them at Wembley, it will be a shock.
The draw for the Champions League is as difficult as it gets, However. Bayern Munich is never an easy opponent, even taking into account the recent instability at the German club, and Chelsea and Real Madrid are waiting in the semi-finals. That side of the draw is a nightmare for everyone involved.
This year’s Premier League title race is still 50-50 between City and Arsenal. That could well change. By the evening of Easter Sunday it will be clear who is in the majority.
Arsenal are looking for a favor with Liverpool on Saturday. Guardiola hopes the same at Anfield next weekend.
After the next two games, if Arteta has maintained or improved an eight-point lead, even though he has played a game more, the title is for him to lose.
The collisions are always about the big moments. Two-thirds of the season is all about maneuvering to a position where anything is possible. Once the international break in March is over, discover which parties have what it takes to cross the line.
‘Knock desperate to put a dent in Guardiola’s Treble bid’
United have never lost a game since the international break in March 1999 and City are likely to embark on a similar run, making Saturday’s game so important. Despite all of Liverpool’s troubles this season, except when City and Arsenal play against each other, they represent the biggest challenge left in the league.
It was City that ended Liverpool’s quadruple bid a year ago. Jürgen Klopp will be desperate to put a dent in Guardiola’s Treble bid this time.
This won’t be how Klopp wanted or planned it, but the logic for the next two weeks is no different from previous years for those looking to celebrate in May. Whichever side beats Liverpool, it feels like they are one step closer to winning the league. If City succeed and Arsenal fail, the Treble talk will get louder.