Soccer's next super-team has arrived, and it's Manchester City

Raheem Sterling celebrates the first of Manchester City’s two goals against Napoli. (The Telegraph)

Once a generation, maybe twice, a team comes along that transcends and then reorders the game, through some ethereal combination of engineering, genius and magic dust. It shifts paradigms, dominates and is then copied by lesser teams.

Just under a decade ago, that team was Barcelona. Now, it’s Manchester City, the newly rich juggernaut in the making, sourced from a bottomless well of cash from Abu Dhabi and the coaching mastery of its manager, Pep Guardiola. He was, not coincidentally, also the brain behind the ongoing Barca dynasty, which changed the aesthetics and our expectations of soccer.

We’re nine seasons on from Guardiola’s managerial debut campaign with Barca, when he won the treble and kicked off a run in which he’d lift the Champions League twice in three years and claim six league titles in Spain and in Germany with Bayern Munich, in spite of taking a year-long sabbatical. In the summer of 2016, he arrived in Manchester, where City had been pursuing him for years.

It took a year or so for him to build the team in his image. For the first time in his career, Guardiola had taken charge of a club that wasn’t already one of the dominant powers in its country — like Barca and Bayern had been. While City had won Premier League titles in 2012 and 2014 — just the third and fourth top-tier championships in its history — Guardiola had to reconstruct an aging and stale team, spending lavishly to shore up every line.

Last season, his side nevertheless got off to a red-hot start, before fading in October. This year, City began on fire and has only heated up further. On Saturday, it pulverized Stoke City 7-2, a league win coming on the back of a 1-0 away win at defending champions Chelsea and 5-0, 6-0 and 5-0 wins over Crystal Palace, Watford and Liverpool (!), respectively.

But confirmation of the advent of a new era came on Tuesday, when City beat Napoli in a 2-1 victory that revealed the heights this team could rise to. After all, Napoli was considered the team in Europe playing the best soccer going into the game. It has won all eight of its Serie A games this season in an Italian circuit that’s more competitive than it’s been in years with several of the big clubs recently revived. And Napoli has done so in dazzling fashion, scoring 26 goals and conceding just five with a brand of soccer designed by Maurizio Sarri that’s the envy of everyone.

Everyone but City.

Because City, too, has started its league campaign undefeated — seven wins in eight with 29 goals scored and only four allowed. And thanks to its first-half dismantling of Napoli, City not only remained undefeated for the season but provoked the question if anyone will be able to compete with Guardiola’s latest creation once it reaches full maturity. Not even an inexplicably surging Barca — in spite of Neymar’s departure — or a Real Madrid team that has won three European crowns in four years seems to be adequately staffed to handle what we saw of this City side.

Because in the opening half hour, City was rampant in a fashion we’ve not seen for quite some time. Never mind that for the rest of the game, Napoli was its equal or superior. Napoli made adjustments after the opening half hour that pulled the balance of power in Tuesday’s game somewhere close to even before the break. And in the second half, Napoli was the better team.

But the damage had already been done by then. And what City had flashed in that opening third of the game was, for want of a better term, gobsmackingly good.

Nine minutes in, City scored with a flowing move that traversed the field from one side to the other. Gabriel Jesus dummied David Silva’s cross at the near post. Kyle Walker’s shot was blocked but the rebound fell for Raheem Sterling, who swept it home.


Four minutes later, the majestic Kevin De Bruyne picked off a headed clearance in the final third, beat a man and hit a perfect low ball across the box that teed up Gabriel Jesus for City’s second.


There could have been more. On a roaring City counterattack of swishing passes, De Bruyne curled his shot off the underside of the bar. And Jesus was denied on the goal line by defender Kalidou Koulibaly.

That’s when the tide turned. Kyle Walker pulled Raul Albiol down in the box and conceded the first of two penalties City would give away. But Ederson saved Dries Mertens’ effort down the middle.

In the second half, John Stones blocked a Marek Hamsik shot in front of an otherwise empty goal with a dive before Napoli’s second penalty was converted by Amadou Diawara in the 72nd minute.


City hung on for the win. And to the record books, this will look like an unremarkable home win by a lone goal. But anybody who saw it, who witnessed that opening half hour and truly appreciated it for what it was, likely recognized something else. Something that even the greatest-ever teams could only do in short spells.

City moved so fluidly, not so much running as gliding, and had such comprehensive control over the ball and the game, that it seemed like it had been pitted against some nothing team from nowhere during a pre-season scrimmage that was always going to be a rout. Rather than one of Europe’s best teams, which Napoli would remind everyone it was in the second half — as if to underscore just how superb that meant City had been in the first act.

Napoli, we learned, is the real deal. But City is something more than that. Something ascending to a place where very few teams have been.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.