Belfast Telegraph

How 'exhilarating' Manchester City kingpins have raised the Premier League bar

Guardiola's heroes taking football to new level

By Andy Hampson

Manchester City have taken English football to a new level this season.

While the title may have been won convincingly by certain teams in the past, or stylishly by others, rarely can a side have achieved it altogether so emphatically, so beautifully and to such a high standard as City this term.

The team from the Etihad Stadium have been a class apart and their campaign a masterpiece of construction by their inspirational manager Pep Guardiola.

City got off to a winning start, showed their brilliance with some resounding wins in the autumn and then ground out some tougher victories as winter neared. With some chief rivals clinically dismantled along the way, the title was effectively won with a run of 18 successive victories before the turn of the year. The second half of the season has been a procession, with City powering ahead and collecting the Carabao Cup along the way.

The quadruple bid may have come to a surprising end with defeat to League One Wigan, and previously undetected weaknesses may have been unearthed in this month's Champions League exit to Liverpool and coronation-delaying derby defeat by Manchester United.

But these blips do not detract from an outstanding league campaign.

Kevin De Bruyne has been the standout player but the near-flawless Belgian cannot take all the credit because his efforts form only part of a truly magnificent team effort.

Numerous players have taken turns to share the plaudits with the irrepressible Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Leroy Sane all proving matchwinners on several occasions.

The defence has been transformed from the nervous-looking unit it was last season following the arrival of Ederson in goal. The Brazilian infused the entire back line with confidence, allowing Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones to reach new levels of excellence and Vincent Kompany to show signs of his old self when fit. The full-back positions have also been revitalised, particularly by Kyle Walker on the right.

In midfield, Fernandinho has been strong and dynamic while Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva have provided additional options. It says a lot that Yaya Toure, a commanding presence in most of City's modern successes, has barely featured.

The key to it all has been Guardiola. The much-decorated Spaniard found the cynics who lazily attributed his past glories to the squads he inherited at Barcelona and Bayern Munich out in force last season. They suggested he had met his match in the Premier League, where the competition was greater.

Yet if things had proved tougher than expected as City limped into an underwhelming third-placed finish last year, Guardiola swiftly set about putting things right. Bernardo Silva was signed within a week of the last campaign ending. Ederson, Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo soon followed in a £170million summer spending spree, while several older players were cleared out.

The changes yielded spectacular results with City not only playing easy-on-the-eye, fast-paced attacking football in keeping with Guardiola's play-out-from-the-back philosophy, but doing so with a formidable determination to win.

Some critics still claim Guardiola is little more than a chequebook manager but of his summer signings, only Ederson and Walker have made a decisive impact.

The rest of the squad still bears the fingerprints of Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, managers whose eras were deemed to have run their course.

The key to the success lies in how Guardiola has moulded the squad to fit his vision, having had the benefit of a year to settle. The club's priority this summer will undoubtedly be securing the 47-year-old's services for longer than the one year remaining on his contract.

City have been exhilarating and have pulled so far away from the field that their dominance could continue. It has been quite a ride and it seems far from finished.

Belfast Telegraph

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