Unprecedented quadruple looms into view for ruthless City
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Schalke posted a GIF of two Power Rangers holding their heads in their hands, accompanied by the message: “MAKE IT STOP.”
Another tweet popped up minutes later, this time from the goalkeeping coach of Manchester City’s next opponent, Swansea, who posted a photo of a TV screen showing Schalke trailing 7-0 at Etihad Stadium.
“Scouting report nearly completed for Saturday’s FA Cup tie,” Adrian Tucker wrote , along with an emoji of a flushed face.
City has its opponents bewildered and running scared amid a torrid run that has opened up the increasingly realistic prospect of an unprecedented quadruple of trophies this season.
The thrashing of Schalke in the Champions League on Tuesday was City’s 18th win — one of which was a penalty-shootout victory in the English League Cup final — in 19 games in 2019. In that streak, City has scored 61 goals and conceded only eight.
The players are on a mission and utterly ruthless. There’s no slowing up or preserving energy after rushing into a big lead, as shown against Schalke when City scored four times in the second half with progress to the quarterfinals already secured. Five goals came in the final 33 minutes of City’s 9-0 win over Burton Albion in the League Cup semifinals in January.
The depth of City’s expensively assembled squad is starting to show, too.
This time last year, City coach Pep Guardiola fielded a weakened lineup in the second leg of the last 16 against Basel — with qualification virtually assured from the first leg — and saw his team lose 2-1 at home, though they still advanced.
Twelve months later, a team missing four or five regular first-teamers swatted aside Schalke, with center midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, versatile defender Danilo and winger Leroy Sane particularly impressive and taking the opportunity to show Guardiola that they deserve a starting spot in City’s strongest side.
“They are the favorites, for me,” former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand said after the game. “In terms of depth, quality and the variations they possess, I think they’ve got the best squad.”
No English team has been this close to winning the main four trophies in one season. When Alex Ferguson’s Man United won the Premier League-FA Cup-Champions League treble in the 1998-99 season, it lost in the League Cup in December.
City already has that title in the bag, is top of the Premier League by a point with eight games left, and plays second-division team Swansea in the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday. With Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and either Bayern Munich or Liverpool guaranteed to be out of the Champions League quarterfinals, the path to conquering Europe’s top competition for the first time is also becoming clearer — even if Guardiola has said City isn’t ready to make that leap.
“Of course we will try to prove him wrong,” said Bernardo Silva, who signed a three-year contract extension Wednesday through 2025 and was one of City’s scorers against Schalke. “We know it is a difficult competition, a special competition against the best teams in Europe, but we players will try to prove him wrong.”
With a little over two months left of the season, there is a maximum of 16 games remaining across all competitions for City. The schedule looks particularly fearsome in April, when City faces five Premier League games (including a trip to Old Trafford), a likely FA Cup semifinal match at Wembley Stadium, and possibly three Champions League games if the team reaches the semifinals.
After years of big spending by City, Guardiola has the squad to cope with such a logjam but said after the Schalke game that it is essential none of his players return injured from the upcoming two-week break for international matches.
“It is a huge risk to the players,” he said of the international break, “we need the players (fit) if we can compete until the end.”
City is under intense scrutiny off the field. The Premier League and UEFA are currently investigating whether the club broke any rules regarding matters such as financial compliance, third-party ownership and the recruitment of youngsters, and FIFA is separately assessing whether City broke rules designed to protect youngsters from child trafficking when it signed youth-team players. City is also in the middle of an internal review into historic instances of sexual abuse at the club, which has led to it announcing Tuesday that a redress scheme has been set up to compensate victims .
Perhaps more than ever, the spotlight will be on the club on the field, too, as City looks to make history under Guardiola.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80