Despite Champions League disappoinment, the Premier League champions are still on for an unprecedented domestic sweep as the season draws to a close.
Manchester City successfully defended their Premier League title with a commanding 4-1 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday, rendering Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Wolves at Anfield futile despite the heroic attempts of Jürgen Klopp’s side to overhaul the reigning champions.
City and Liverpool did not drop a single point from January to May to keep the destination of the title open until the final day, with Guardiola’s side eventually securing the championship with a total of 98 points to Liverpool’s 97, narrowly missing out on beating the all-time record off 100 points set last season when City finished a full 19 points ahead of nearest challengers Manchester United.
With the League Cup already adorning City’s trophy cabinet, Guardiola’s side now stand on the cusp of making history by becoming the first English club to complete a domestic treble.
Several sides have completed an English double of top-flight and FA Cup glory, Manchester United and Arsenal leading the way with three in total and the Gunners achieving the feat most recently under Arséne Wenger in 2001-02. Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, Aston Villa and Preston have all also done the double, something that to date City have not managed.
Watford will aim to derail City's treble bid at Wembley
Watford stand in the way of City in the FA Cup final on 18 May and the Hornets will be confident of upsetting Guardiola’s apple cart to cap a remarkable season of their own that has cemented their place as a top 10 Premier League side and embellished the reputation of manager Javi Gracia, whose operating budget is dwarfed by the spending power of the division’s so-called “big six” clubs.
Although they did not face any of the top six in the Premier League en route to the final, Watford disposed of Wolves in the semi-finals and that has some symbolic value of its own: no side in England scored more victories against City, United, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool than Nuno Espírito Santo’s side this season.
Three teams have won the “false double” in the Premier League era, lifting both the League and FA Cups – Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal – but no side to date has ever won all three domestic titles in the same season since the inauguration of the second cup competition in 1960.
Champions League still eludes Guardiola post-Barça
Should City achieve the feat it will be rightly celebrated as an historic moment for the club, but how far it will go to dispelling doubts about the ability of Guardiola to lead the Citizens to European glory is open to question. The Spaniard has not won the Champions League since 2010-11, when he was blessed with a Barcelona team containing the talents of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Leo Messi. At Bayern he led to the Germans to the semi-finals in each of his three season at the Allianz Arena and yet he has not managed to get City past the quarter-finals in his three season at the club.
That is a question that will not be asked by his employers after this season, which can still end in an unprecedented domestic clean sweep. Next year, Guardiola will be expected to go one better in Europe while maintaining City’s domestic dominance, a tall order but one that the Spaniard has proven he is quite capable of carrying out.