We realise it’s only halfway through the season and nothing is settled yet. But with Manchester City winning 17 out of 18 games in the Premier League, we’re getting to the stage where we’re having to look elsewhere for worthy opponents.
Some are already comparing Pep Guardiola’s men with the finest teams to have graced the league, and it’s certainly hard to remember many sides playing better football. Their dominance makes you wonder how they would have fared against the other great teams that Europe has produced over the last 30 years.
So indulge us as we send City on a fantasy European tour, playing legendary teams on the continent. The following line-up will go into eight titanic battles.
Man City (4-3-3): Ederson; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, Fabian Delph; Kevin De Bruyne, Fernandinho, David Silva; Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane
The revolutionaries: Milan (1988-89)
Milan (4-4-2): Giovanni Galli; Mauro Tassotti, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta, Paolo Maldini; Angelo Colombo, Frank Rijkaard, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Donadoni; Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten
The tempo is frenetic as City take on European champions Milan, who changed football with their 4-4-2 and zonal marking system. On the touchline, Guardiola and Arrigo Sacchi keep adjusting their well-oiled pressing machines, with Sacchi telling his men to push up and stay compact.
Now Guardiola is looking worried, as no matter how quickly City pass it, Milan retain their balance. Their positioning is flawless, as if on autopilot. Franco Baresi marshals Aguero and Silva finds no space behind Ancelotti and Rijkaard. Just as City crank up the tempo even more, Rijkaard plays in Van Basten who chips Ederson. City try to hit back but could play all night without scoring. Milan win 1-0.
Class of '92: Manchester United (1998-99)
Man United (4-4-2): Peter Schmeichel; Gary Neville, Jaap Stam, Ronny Johnsen, Denis Irwin; David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs; Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole
Alex Ferguson has suddenly fallen out with his former friend Guardiola after the latter joined City, and weeks of mud-slinging precede the derby. Two minutes in, Roy Keane clatters into Silva and gets booked. After the dust settles, City exploit their extra man across midfield to race into a 2-0 lead. Only a miraculous Schmeichel save prevents a third goal before half-time.
For the second half, the United players all appear with rearranged hair, as if they’ve been placed in front of a hairdryer. A needless Otamendi foul soon lets Beckham curl in a free-kick, and then Stam rises to steer in a corner in stoppage time. Furious City players protest that Stam fouled Stones, but the goal stands. United snatch a 2-2 draw.
The Galacticos: Real Madrid (2001-02)
Real Madrid (4-1-3-2): Cesar; Michel Salgado, Fernando Hierro, Ivan Helguera, Roberto Carlos; Claude Makelele; Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Santiago Solari; Raul, Fernando Morientes
Guardiola tells his players to press high, but Real Madrid stay cool on the ball. Just before half-time, Zidane nutmegs Fernandinho to release Raul, who fires home from outside the box. A minute later, a thunderous Roberto Carlos free-kick rattles the crossbar.
Yet majestic as they are, Madrid unravel in the second half. They keep attacking with five men plus adventurous full-backs, forcing Makelele to cut down De Bruyne to stop a counter-attack. Yellow card. A refocused City strike twice on the break and win it. In the dressing room an hour later, Vicente del Bosque is sacked.
The Invincibles: Arsenal (2003-04)
Arsenal (4-4-2): Jens Lehmann; Lauren, Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole; Freddie Ljungberg, Gilberto, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires; Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry
A scintillating City score two goals inside 20 minutes and, for a while, it looks like they’re playing football from the future – which, strictly speaking, they are. Aguero runs rings around Campbell and Lauren has already hacked down Sane three times. Arsenal try to press City, but are too disorganised.
In the second half, Arsenal sit back more. Reluctant to compromise his team’s possession stats, Guardiola keeps attacking. Soon, Thierry Henry sprints clear down the left and curls one into the far corner. Sol Campbell then flicks in a free-kick, as Arsenal salvage a draw and stay unbeaten. “I believe we showed great character in the second half,” says Arsene Wenger.
The special ones: Chelsea (2004-05)
Chelsea (4-3-3): Petr Cech; Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry, William Gallas; Tiago, Claude Makelele, Frank Lampard; Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba, Damien Duff
A day before the match, Jose Mourinho accuses Guardiola of playing "boring" football by "keeping the ball for the sake of it". The Portuguese then parks 11 men behind the ball, and five minutes in Drogba bundles a Lampard cross over the line. Mourinho runs over to celebrate in front of the City dugout, where Guardiola snaps and has to be held back by Vincent Kompany, who got injured during the warm-up.
As City chase an equaliser, Chelsea refuse to cross the halfway line. After 20 minutes, Mourinho takes off Duff for Robert Huth. City record 34 shots, but Chelsea win 1-0.
Defensive specialists: Inter (2009-10)
Inter (4-2-3-1): Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Walter Samuel, Javier Zanetti; Esteban Cambiasso, Thiago Motta; Samuel Eto’o, Wesley Sneijder, Goran Pandev; Diego Milito
Having now gone two games without a win, City race out of the blocks, yet Mourinho has planned well again. Inter sit deep and look for Sneijder to feed Milito, ready to exploit cracks in the City team. Little happens. To Guardiola’s despair, Silva and De Bruyne keep passing it sideways.
Another defeat looks likely when Walker trips Pandev inside the box, but Sneijder blazes over from the spot. When Tiago Motta sees red, Mourinho is sent to the stands and City are galvanised. Julio Cesar soon pushes a shot into the shin of Sterling, who scores the winner. Mourinho accuses the European tour of bias towards City.
Pass masters: Barcelona (2010-11)
Barcelona (4-3-3): Victor Valdes; Dani Alves, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Eric Abidal; Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta; Pedro, Lionel Messi, David Villa
In the days before the match, Guardiola lavishes an unusual amount of praise on Barcelona’s coach. Just before kick-off, he tells his City players to press high. They ask him if he’s gone mad. Yet they comply, and Barca keep passing it between hard-running City players for 45 minutes.
At half-time, Guardiola is forced to make three changes due to fatigue, and reluctantly tells his side to sit deeper. That evens out the contest, but then Messi skips past three players and scores, before curling in a second from a free-kick. Barca are like City, but better, and win 2-0.
German treble-winners: Bayern Munich (2012-13)
Bayern (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Boateng, Dante, David Alaba; Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger; Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery; Mario Mandzukic
After hearing rumours that someone is about to steal his job, Jupp Heynckes holds a rousing pre-match speech that stirs Bayern into action. Shrewd and solid, they frustrate City and threaten on the break. Near the touchline, Guardiola tells Delph to stop Robben from cutting inside on his left. Four minutes later, Bayern go 1-0 up after Robben has cut inside on his left.
In the second half, City tighten the screw and hit the post twice, but Bayern counterpunch as Ribery sets up Muller from two yards. City pull one back through Silva, but suffer a losing end to what has turned out to be a bruising tour. “Things were a lot easier in the league,” says Guardiola, exhausted. “I look forward to playing Bournemouth tomorrow.”
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