Dubai: Since the end of Manchester United’s three-in-a-row 10 years ago, no side has won back-to-back Premier League titles.
After last season’s multi-record-breaking win however, Manchester City stand poised to end that wait and cement their status as the new dominant force in English football.
Pep Guardiola, who stands on the verge of his own Sir Alex Ferguson-esque reign, admits it won’t be easy to retain the crown, let alone do it in as much style.
It seem the records set last season — of most points (100), most wins (32), most away wins (16), most goals (106), most consecutive league wins (18), highest goal difference (+79), fewest minutes behind in matches (153 minutes) and biggest winning points margin (19) — are as daunting to City as they are they are to their opponents.
“I cannot overcome the results, the numbers of last season,” admitted Guardiola. “But in the way we play, yes. And in other competitions, the FA Cup and the Champions League, we can always do better,” he added in reference to being knocked out in the fifth round and quarters of respective competitions.
“If I felt it’s done and cannot improve I would not be here. I stay here because I think we can do better, but to get more than 100 points — no.”
The Spaniard retained league titles in Spain and Germany with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but admits England is a different beast.
“Maybe it is more complicated here. All the teams are good. I try to repeat what I did with Barca and Bayern and be harder with my players. If they think ‘we’re good’ that’s the time we start to go down.
“I have to be clear and fair with them on and off the pitch and try to win games, game-by-game. I don’t think about January or February. I’ll be happy if we arrive at the end game there. But there are many contenders, Chelsea, United, you cannot deny they have excellent players and that’s why no team has won it back-to-back (in a decade).”
In terms of those contenders, there is Liverpool, who finished fourth last season, but excelled in the Champions League, reaching the final before defeat to Real Madrid. The Reds have spent big this summer, and are considered City’s biggest threat challenging for a title that they haven’t won in 29 years.
Then there is last season’s runners-up Manchester United, the record 20-time English champions, who have struggled to add to their squad this summer, much to the frustration of Jose Mourinho.
Should the Portuguese leave it would only strengthen City’s cause, which is already bolstered by their other rivals — Chelsea, who won the FA Cup but finished fifth last season, and Arsenal, who finished sixth — both changing their managers over the summer.
An inevitable bedding in period for ex-Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri, who replaced Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge, and former PSG boss Unai Emery, who comes in for Arsene Wenger after the Frenchman’s 22-year reign in London, will surely only exacerbate the gap between themselves and City.
And then comes Tottenham, top three finishers for the past three seasons running, they will be glad to have held on to coach Mauricio Pochettino and star player Harry Kane. But, as the only Premier League side not to have spent anything over the summer, they surely won’t be poised to mount a serious challenge for the title.
At the other end of the table, last year’s Championship winners Wolverhampton Wanderers, runners-up Cardiff City and play-off winners Fulham will be scrapping to stay up against the likes of Southampton and Huddersfield who almost went down last season.
While aspirational mid to top half sides like Burnley, Everton, Newcastle and perhaps even West Ham, will be looking to edge in any top six fall out.