How Pep Guardiola has revolutionised English football
Pep Guardiola is a brave man. Despite all the criticism he faced last season, he stuck to his guns. Now he is on the cusp of something special. The former Barcelona manager is just four wins from the Premier League title. He can get the first tonight against Stoke. If he collects the other three in immediate succession, Guardiola will have won the crown quicker than anyone.
Manchester City are the Premier League's best by a country mile this campaign. Worse for the rest, they are poised to get better. City have beaten every top-six rival, Arsenal twice, Chelsea twice, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Tottenham once each. Only Liverpool have taken points from them.
The manner in which they have played teams off the park has been nothing short of exceptional. Sunday’s victory over Chelsea was a dress rehearsal for the passing of the guard. The champions-elect made the holders look ordinary, to say the least.
Pep has been branded a cheque book manager, only doing well because he has outspent his rivals. Though he has, he can point to the fact other teams have spent as well without realising a proportionate return on their investments. Many records are lined up to be knocked off by season's end: most goals, goal difference, highest points.
Last season Guardiola struggled to adjust to the league's demands and intensity. He made a poignant statement that has become his vindication this term. When he went trophyless last term, he was labelled tactically arrogant, inflexible, uncompromising. He confessed to it all but claimed he would continue to believe in the methods that had long served him well. And they are again.
He has whipped out players who didn’t fit his philosophy and acquired young, vibrant individuals he has moulded to his vision. Of the veterans he kept, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have raised their games to another level, churning out excellent performances weekly. In September, Pep waxed lyrical about his players and how their win at Stamford Bridge proved that they could play the tiki-taka style anywhere. Vindication.
No team has won back to back league titles in the Premier League since 2009. It is difficult to maintain success in the division. But the nature of City's approaching title will worry other clubs. With Guardiola in the dugout, the Sky Blues will only improve. City are playing a style never seen in Premier League stadia: high pressing, effective, possession-based football. They are overwhelming opponents.
Guardiola is turning over every stone in his quest to make the English football environment bend to his will. Last season’s hurtful comments affected him, but he said people should judge his work in England in his second season. City can reach 100 points this campaign, but will they still be focused on the league when the Champions League's latter stages comes calling?
They have lost only three matches all season. Two were Champions League dead rubbers. Only the infamous loss to Wigan in the FA Cup mars their perfection. Still, the only way for City is up. Pep Guardiola is the man behind their rise and he deserves credit for a job well done.