There was something fitting about Manchester City leaving it until the last kick of the season to secure 100 Premier League points, becoming the first club ever to make that landmark in the top flight.
Gabriel Jesus’ strike right on the stroke of full-time in his side’s 1-0 success at Southampton came almost exactly six years to the minute that Sergio Aguero netted in the 3-2 victory over QPR to win the club’s first Sheikh Mansour era title in 2012. Add that to Paul Dickov’s equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Gillingham in the infamous Division Two playoff final in 1999 and it seems like City only ever make their landmark moments with seconds to spare.
Whatever had happened on the south coast on Sunday afternoon, City would have been remembered as the greatest Premier League team over the course of a year. That was always going to be the case because of the runs they’ve been on, the performances they’ve put in both home and away, and the sheer domination over the rest of the English top flight.
But, as Pep Guardiola has had a habit of saying recently, records are there to be broken. It will take a truly phenomenal campaign to better what City have achieved this term, but someday it will be done — even if it takes decades. When that happens, had Sunday’s match ended in a draw or defeat for the champions, they’d have faded away as just another team with an extraordinary campaign.
That’s why reaching a century of points was so important. It gives City a measurable benchmark and makes this season quantifiable. Nobody will remember that Chelsea were once the leading Premier League points earners now their tally of 95 from 2005 has been beaten.
When the next extraordinary team has a near-flawless season, City will still be the first to have hit triple figures in the points column. That’s an achievement that can’t be taken away — the most wins, the most goals, the most points can. This century puts them in the same bracket as the Manchester United treble winners and the Arsenal “Invincibles.”
All season long there has been a debate on whether this City side can be compared to the greatest teams of the past. The answer, even from Guardiola, appears to be no — they haven’t won enough consistently over a sustained period to be placed alongside the best of years gone by.
Yet, when those greats are discussed, it’s always their single-season exploits that are held in the highest regard. As City’s record this term has proved, none have performed as consistently as they have done over a 38-game spell. Nobody is claiming this side has built a dynasty, but it can’t be denied that their league campaign was as close to perfect as England has ever seen. That’s worth shouting about.
The excuses don’t hold water, either.
This is not a weak Premier League this year — if it was, all five English teams in the Champions League wouldn’t have managed to get out of the group and there wouldn’t be one with a shot of winning the competition in a couple of weeks. Equally, if the rest of the top flight was such dross, surely one of the other big teams would have been able to muster a better title challenge?
City have spent money and that’s a big factor in why they have played so well over the last nine months. But Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea haven’t been shy in the transfer market, either. It’s that City have spent better, brought in the right players for their style, and Guardiola has drilled them to perfection.
If City’s 100-point achievement was all down to money and a less-than-competitive Premier League, you’d have thought Mark Hughes, Roberto Mancini or Manuel Pellegrini might have done it at the Etihad long before Guardiola arrived. Or perhaps one of the other big-spending sides of the Premier League era may have managed it.
Those who questioned whether Guardiola could cut it in England after a hit-and-miss first season must be eating their words. After taking over a squad that needed a fair bit of work to get it back into title-winning shape — after two years of underperforming and stagnation under Pellegrini — he’s pulled off superb quality and consistency in just his second season.
It’s been so good that City could defend the title next year and it still not feel like as good a season as this one, purely because the bar has been raised so high. Their achievement is magnified when you realise that City have dropped just 14 points across six games since August.
While his team have been closing in on all of the records they’ve smashed in recent weeks, Guardiola has been regularly downplaying the significance, saying “the numbers are the numbers.” But what extraordinary numbers they are, and his celebrations at full-time on Sunday show exactly what it really means.
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