Premier League 2018-19: Manchester City enter the most important period of the season in their chase for the quadruple
If Manchester City are to achieve immortality by winning the quadruple, they would look back at this period in which they can either crash out of two competitions or go on and achieve something never done before.
In and around the next two weeks, they face Tottenham Hotspur in the quarterfinals of the Champions League and also in the Premier League, travel to North London and play against Crystal Palace, and also take part in the Manchester Derby.
There are lots of things that must go right for City to get past these hurdles. And one of those is having an injury-free squad, which doesn't seem in their grasp at the moment.
After the international break, City welcomed back Fernandinho and Kevin de Bruyne back into their team, but have lost Aguero, Walker and Zinchenko in successive matches.
Their team is currently thin in the full back areas, with Danilo and a not-fully-fit Benjamin Mendy as their only other options. Laporte and Delph can also deputize in that role, but they can’t replicate exactly what Guardiola wants from his full backs. In this highly packed schedule, the last thing they want is losing another player to injury.
Playing every three days has its own positives as well as negatives. If you ask the players, they would always prefer playing a game rather than training the whole week. But City have already played 52 games this season, which can potentially add up to 62 games at the end of the Premier League season.
With more games come fatigue and tired legs, which was apparent in the semi-final against Brighton in the FA Cup. No matter how deep your squad is, being involved in so many competitions takes a toll physically as well as mentally.
When asked about how he keeps his players fresh in this rigorous schedule, Guardiola simply answered, “They like to play football.” There was a certain gravity in his statement.
The way City play their game, it’s almost as if they don’t even have to break a sweat and can easily stroll through the matches. But what happens when the things aren’t so simple, when an opposition team of good caliber challenges them?
The match against Spurs on Tuesday will be the first of many tests they will need to pass in their hunt for multiple trophies. Spurs at home won’t hold back, and with the support of the crowd in their new stadium, they will take the game to City.
It was a similar situation for City last season, where they faced a counter-attacking, pressing Liverpool side and got knocked out in virtually 30 minutes by shipping in three quickfire goals. City need to avoid that and try to be pragmatic in their approach; anything like a scored draw or a 2-1 defeat would be totally acceptable.
They then have a tricky game at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace, who enjoy playing against possession-based sides. After that they welcome the Spurs twice at the Etihad, and it surely won’t be easy to adapt to the different mentalities of the two different competitions.
Once that is done, they will have to play against Manchester United at Old Trafford. The result of that match will have consequences on the title race as well as on the Champions League spots.
This period poses huge questions of City’s squad as well as Guardiola’s player management. City have certainly grown over the last two years, and if they are able to clear these obstacles, it will be a huge testament to the mentality that Guardiola has instilled within the squad.
The question still remains though - can City do it? Can they achieve what nobody has achieved before? With the perseverance they have shown this season, being there every single day and trying to win the game, it is certainly possible.
The Champions League is the one that seems the hardest. But with a little bit of luck along the way, they are capable of winning the elite competition. City are arguably the best footballing side in Europe, and their only true nemesis would be themselves.
As for the league, even if City do not win it, that won't be considered a failure. Normally, a team with 95 or 92 points easily wins the league. But this has been an extraordinary season where we have witnessed two teams pushing each other every single match-day, taking themselves to the position where they are now.
Only time will tell whether this City squad, the best ever as claimed by many, can truly pull off something unthinkable.