Pep’s Man City machine is unstoppable in 2019

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The Blues have won all but one of their games this year and after humiliating Schalke on Tuesday they are looking well placed to keep that run going.

And to think Pep Guardiola was worrying about his Manchester City side “forgetting to play” little over a month ago.

That night, when City lost 2-1 at Newcastle and looked set to fall seven points behind Liverpool at the top of the Premier League, things looked a little concerning for City.

But fast forward 42 days and City are flying. Or to put it another way, fast forward nine games and City have won them all. Or another way: of the 19 games in all competitions so far this calendar year, City have won 18.

That potential seven-point deficit is now a one-point lead at the top of the table. They have the Carabao Cup in the bag, and they play the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at Swansea City on Saturday.

And after obliterating Schalke on Tuesday night, they are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Things are looking up.

And yet there were genuine concerns up at St James’ Park that things might get away from them.

Guardiola spent at least 30 minutes in the dressing room afterwards and nearly shouted himself hoarse. When he finally emerged for his press conference he said his side had gone a goal up and then switched off, not doing what they were supposed to do.

The problem was that he had made similar complaints after the two previous games, even though City had eventually beaten Huddersfield and Wolves.

Things seemed a little precarious, especially ahead of hastily re-arranged trip to Everton sandwiched between home games against Arsenal and Chelsea.

But looking back now all that seems irrelevant. Maybe it is. We know Guardiola was worried, though, and he casually admitted after City bounced back to beat the Gunners that after Newcastle ‘everybody looked at themselves in the mirror’.

What did they see?

Well, what they are is a collection of excellent players, who after at least two years of hardcore Guardiola coaching know exactly what they need to do on the pitch. They may have ‘forgotten’ on a couple of occasions, but it seems like a long time since that has been a problem for them.

It certainly wasn’t on Tuesday. After a few narrow games in recent weeks they hit three against a very defensive Watford at the weekend (albeit helped on their way by a poor offside decision) and they were dazzling against Schalke.

Ilkay Gundogan, who has replaced the injured Fernandinho since the Carabao Cup final, pulled the strings and was at the heart of City’s first two goals. Two of his fine passes helped win a penalty for the opener, before a perfectly weighted pass over the top set Raheem Sterling in behind for the second. Sergio Aguero did what he does and finished them both off. That’s 10 goals for him since Newcastle, and he scored there, too.

Leroy Sane, out of the side recently, then showed us his very best. First he latched on to a perfect Oleksandr Zinchenko pass and slid the ball home for 3-0, before turning provider after half-time with three assists. For the first two he raced down his left flank and put in two excellent crosses; Sterling fired home one, Bernardo Silva steered in the other.

For his next trick he picked up the ball inside, shimmied past his man and played in Phil Foden, who danced past the goalkeeper and slid the ball into an empty net.

Bernardo then decided to get somebody else in on the act so he pulled a cross back for Gabriel Jesus to curl in from the edge of the box. Ralf Fahrmann should’ve done better with it, but then again all the Schalke players should have done better all night – they descended into a rabble.

City did this to a League One side and a Championship side in January and now a Bundesliga side went the same way. In truth it says as much about Schalke’s current predicament as it does about City’s.

So there is no sense in getting too carried away at this point. Albeit in slightly different circumstances, City had eased into the last eight a year ago, battering Basel but then coming unstuck against a much better team than the Swiss.

There are many better teams than Schalke, and indeed Guardiola felt his side were lucky to even have a first-leg lead to bring back from Gelsenkirchen, given they put in a patchy performance even if the VAR gods were not smiling on them. He argued that against another sides they would have been punished.

They do still have work to do if they are to go all the way in this competition, but you would have to say that it is work they are capable of doing.

After all, so far this year they have scored 61 goals and conceded just eight. Those are scary numbers.

This was City back to their emphatic best, and if they carry this on then 2019 could be another special year.

 

Goal


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