The first and only Premier League club to ever win the European treble, which consists of the domestic cup, domestic league and the Champions League, is Manchester United, back in the 1998-99 season.
A full decade of parity passed before current Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola led Barcelona to the impressive six-trophy haul in the 2008-09 season. The next campaign, Inter Milan repeated the feat. Bayern Munich felt that rarest of high at the end of the 2012-13 season. Eventually, Barcelona bookended the treble era when Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, et al. made Barcelona the first club to repeat the European treble in 2014-15.
In many ways, Guardiola launched the treble era when his sculpted Barcelona into a side that reached that rare air of dominance. In 2013, Guardiola picked up his brush and began painting a vision of Bayern that had never existed before. He evolved the brand of football in Bavaria and dominated to such an extreme that the league felt his force.
During his tenure, Guardiola had no domestic competition of note, as he won the league by at least 10 points in all three of his seasons, and Bayern’s average goal differential in those seasons was 65.3. The manner in which he dramatically reshaped Bayern Munich’s brand of football to a skillfully purer form, and developed players like Thomas Muller and utilized players like Philipp Lahm, only further solidified that Guardiola could coach beyond Messi and Barcelona.
Six of Germany’s 11 starters in the 2014 World Cup Final played for Guardiola at Bayern before hopping a jet and becoming world champions in Brazil. Similarly, Guardiola sent a plane full of Spanish players to South Africa when Spain claimed the World Cup in 2010.
To consider Guardiola’s three Bundesliga titles and two DFB Pokal trophies a failure in any manner would be a harsh assessment of the Spaniard’s time in Munich. Guardiola changed German football and dominated to such an extent that a league title race never formed and no challenger could emerge from the dust Bayern left behind.
Bayern hit 90 points in the league in Guardiola’s first season in Germany, which was a point-total that would have been good enough to win the Premier League in nine years out of the last decade. Plus, the Bundesliga only plays 34 matches, rather than the 38 played in England, Spain and Italy. With four extra matches, Guardiola’s points per match rate of 2.64 would have landed him on 100 points in a Premier League season.
After moving to the Premier League at Manchester City, Guardiola has done the unthinkable.
Guardiola is currently ripping apart the long-held notion that teams like Bayern Munich and Barcelona would never be able to dominate the Premier League like they do the Bundesliga or La Liga, respectively, by creating a side that is dominating the league like never before.
Could Messi do it on a wet Wednesday night at Stoke? Well, Pep Guardiola’s Man City doesn’t go to Stoke City until March, but Stoke City’s visit to the Etihad in October resulted in a commanding and comfortable 7-2 victory.
Through 15 matches, Manchester City is averaging 2.86 points per match, which is a torrid pace and places the Citizens on a path to 109 points in 38 matches. Statistically, Guardiola is doing better than he did in Germany. Manchester City is off to a historic start and looks set to challenge the Premier League record of 95 points set by Chelsea in 2004-05.
Nearly 40 percent of the way through the 2017-18 campaign, Guardiola’s Man City can already see the path to the Premier League title. Even when the Citizens inevitably drop points and hit a bad run of form, the high-priced Spanish artist will take the necessary nicks that add further definition to his third managerial masterpiece.
If the season ended today, Kevin De Bruyne would likely be Manchester City’s most valuable player. (Yahoo Sports UK)
At Barcelona, Guardiola took over a team that relied on great players like Ronaldinho and Deco, but the manager changed the team’s focus to Messi. He also changed the style of play to rely more heavily on Iniesta and Xavi, while introducing Sergio Busquets in a pivotal role that Guardiola once played himself.
At Bayern Munich, Guardiola inherited a side that played a direct style focused on wing play and lightning counter-attacking football. Immediately, Guardiola brought in players like Thiago Alcantara and Xabi Alonso and changed Bayern into a possession-based team that dominated opponents by controlling matches like never before.
Unlike Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola’s aging City squad needed retooling that took a full 12 months to administer. The team he inherited had defensive deficiencies that could not be masked over. In addition, Claudio Bravo proved to be a disastrous signing, and Guardiola still needed a goalkeeper that could keep possession with intelligent distribution of the ball and also possessed the ability to makes saves after his first season in charge. His fullbacks were also too long in the tooth, and he lacked the right quality of depth at striker.
Gabriel Jesus arrived in January of Guardiola’s first season and immediately remedied the last of those concerns, while Ederson joined in June to claim a permanent position in between the posts to permanently supplant Bravo. Danilo, Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker came to solve the problem of aging fullbacks.
Bernardo Silva may have been slight overkill in terms of attacking talent, but Silva joined the squad as a long-term addition capable of being a rotation player in the present and possessing all the skills to potentially take over a David Silva-type role in the future, should Guardiola decide to move the Portuguese starlet off the wings and more central.
Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling have improved under Guardiola’s guidance, and the two wingers often serve as the primary hammers that tilt defenses and create the spaces that allow quality players like Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero to find the cutting pass or the special goal-scoring touch.
Guardiola has not only changed the style of his side, he’s utilized forgotten players like Fabian Delph at left back, with an eye to pushing Delph back into his natural central midfield role. An important figure like Ilkay Gundogan has helped move the team away from a midfield dependence on Yaya Toure, who has only made two substitute appearances in the Premier League and two starts in the Champions League, the last of which was the meaningless defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk during the midweek.
While Sterling, Sane and De Bruyne serve as prime examples of Guardiola’s coaching successes, Aguero is probably the most impressive example of Guardiola’s management genius. With Jesus scoring goals regularly and rumors and quotes suggesting that Aguero would be moving in the summer of 2017, Guardiola insisted on keeping the Argentine striker on the team and giving him a central role to start the season.
Instead of struggling with a situation like Liverpool had with Philippe Coutinho, Aguero has appeared in 10 Premier League matches and scored nine goals. Aguero also has three goals in four Champions League appearances. Meanwhile, Jesus has eight goals and two assists in 14 league appearances, 10 of which were starts, and an additional two goals in six Champions League appearances, three of which were starts.
Jesus and Aguero are both playing often enough to be productive, and Guardiola has managed to keep all his attackers hungry for playing time and goals.
Then again, if the season ended today, De Bruyne would be voted as the player of the season. The strength of Manchester City is that Aguero, Jesus, Sterling, Sane and De Bruyne attack like shotgun blasts, rather than a single rifle shot. And when none of them come through, a player with the world-class quality of David Silva can step up and hit the winner—like he did in the second half against West Ham United on Sunday.
Guardiola cleared the slate and constructed a team worthy of being called art, more so than at either of his previous stops. Manchester City has won two Premier League titles in recent years, but neither of those seasons will stand at eye-level with what Guardiola has produced in the first four months of the 2017-18 campaign.
If Guardiola reigns supreme away at Old Trafford in Sunday’s Manchester derby, an 11-point lead should start the conversation about whether Guardiola and Manchester City can challenge the “Invincibles” of Arsenal and even open up talk of Manchester City potentially pushing to match 1998-99 Manchester United as the only Premier League sides to complete the European treble.
After all, FC Yahoo’s Henry Bushnell thinks Manchester City is the no. 1 contender following the group stages.
When Guardiola gets it right, his teams play football that belongs on a different planet, and through the first four months of the season, Manchester City is playing the best football in Europe.
Blasphemous as it may sound, winning the Premier League alone wouldn’t do Guardiola’s Manchester City justice. City’s squad age, depth, talent and structure suggest that even if the Citizens don’t claim the treble this season, they’ll be tough to dethrone domestically and competing at the highest levels in Europe for the foreseeable future.
At this stage, Guardiola’s Manchester City has finally arrived, and the history books should be kept open because the Citizens are primed to build a domestic dynasty, which is sure to leak into Europe.
Yes, Guardiola is currently painting a masterpiece that will improve with each viewing and likely last after he’s put his brush down.