If there are any Mavericks/Liverpool fans out there, our heart goes out to you (though the Mavs have been nearly untouchable at home, so there may still be some salvation for them). Both of those teams were or are being asked to stand in front of a bus with no brakes and tasked with getting it to stop. There simply is no force in sports today quite like when either Manchester City or the Golden State Warriors get going. Where it lands the Warriors is yet to be determined. It won City the Premier League today.
A popular derision of City, one that is certainly rooted in jealousy and bitterness and desperation to find anything to nitpick with perhaps the world’s latest perfect footballing machine (and the last one was probably coached by Pep Guardiola too), is that City are boring because all their goals look the same. There are roughly 12,000 clubs across the globe who would love to score 100 goals per season that all look the same, but when you need to throw stones you’ll throw them at any perceived weakness.
You know what it looks like. A steady build-up of passes in the opposing half, and then an open run and pass to a player streaking toward the byline just inside the penalty area, a pull-back to either the edge of the six-yard box or through it, tap-in. It’s metronomic, automatic, and inevitable. While it may be predictable, the fact that Guardiola has been able to engineer this level of control and precision into a team, whatever the funds behind it, is still staggering. And even if you stop that one method, and so few do, they’ll pull it back to the edge of the area for someone else to pass it in from 20 yards.
Of course, the complaint of boredom or repetitiveness is patently ridiculous, because it’s even more impressive that almost all of City’s opponents know what’s coming, and yet are helpless to do anything about it. They’ll get tired, they’ll slip for just one second, just one mistake, and City’s ever vigilant attack will take a sliver of an opening and turn it into a massive wound. And once the blood starts gushing, there isn’t a tourniquet to be found.
Maybe, like me, if you were draped in red (or yellow as the case may be as I opted for my Jordan Henderson away shirt today) you allowed yourself a moment–with City down 2-0 and Liverpool only requiring one goal to make things truly interesting–to hope. Maybe even expect, if you were truly taking leave of your senses. But City in the league are not City in Europe, which makes for a bewildering juxtaposition. In the league, they know they’ll find a way. In Europe, they know they won’t.
So once this went in…
You knew what was coming. You probably thought, like I did, “Here it comes.”
Because it always does. Give City some rope, they’ll take it all. There’s a blue wave and you feel like they have about 16 players on the field. They don’t just generate chance after chance so much as goal after goal. It feeds on itself. Even with all that emotion and fury, their precision is still something to behold. Rodri’s finish here can’t be any better:
There’s the other City goal. Forcing an opponent to essentially line guys along the goal line to prevent the usual assist and leave space for a shot from just outside the area. This is still when it was all slipping away for City, and they’re inch-perfect to prevent it from doing so.
In some ways, it was nice of them to not drag it out. It was only five minutes from pissing it all away to snatching it in the most violent way possible. It was a foregone conclusion they would get the third, so you might as well get on with it:
Again, there’s barely a crack here at first. Once Tyrone Mings clears the initial through-ball, Douglas Luiz reacts just a fraction of a second too slowly. But Kevin De Bruyne didn’t, and with just that inch the whole house crumbles. There’s no stopping this. It may feel good to bemoan how predictable it all is, but who can do anything about it? Even Liverpool, the second-best defense in all of Europe behind…City, could never hold them to less than two goals.
It feels as if everyone knows it too. City weren’t particularly threatening before Villa went up 2-0, with some chances here and there but hardly an onslaught. And yet as soon as the first one went in, you could see the resignation go through the entire Villa team. “We might as well be practice dummies,” was the obvious feeling. It just washes over teams, at least in the league, because it’s so powerful, and because most teams just accept that it will. There’s certainly an aura at work.
So it’s City’s fourth title in five years under Guardiola. Again, the knives of money spent and the sources it came from are sharpened and thrown. While the sports-washing aspect of City will never go away, and nor should it, not everyone can take a bottomless well of money and turn it into this world-ending tsunami. Roberto Mancini had a shot, he won the title once. Manuel Pellegrini had his turn, he won the league once. Each had their foils, but neither of them could turn back a Liverpool team amassing 90+ points in a second place finish twice. You still have to make all that sets City apart count, and Guardiola has.
It may seem too automated, or efficient, or lacking vibrance. We should all be so lucky.