July 4, 2022

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When will Manchester City win the Premier League title? A question of when, not if

The countdown has begun. Pep Guardiola’s third Premier League title as Manchester City manager is within his grasp. He rattled off the challenges to come with glee, starting with Wolves here tomorrow. Sunday’s Manchester derby is not far from his thoughts, either.

Twelve games to go now and the next three are at home. For a team who had played eight of their last 10 matches in all competitions away before this victory over a resilient West Ham, it is some form of relief.

‘They are terribly important,’ Guardiola said. ‘And I’m terribly happy! These three games may be a huge, huge part of our Premier League season. The players know we are not champions, there are still 36 points to play for.  

Boss Pep Guardiola is closing in on his third Premier League title with Manchester City

Boss Pep Guardiola is closing in on his third Premier League title with Manchester City

Boss Pep Guardiola is closing in on his third Premier League title with Manchester City

‘With what we have in our legs and minds, these three games will be so difficult, like today was, because we are not fresh.’ 

He is right, City are not fresh —even with seven changes from the midweek win in Europe. They certainly did not appear fresh up against the screening Declan Rice — imperious at the base of West Ham’s midfield — or tracking the intelligent running of Michail Antonio, or fighting the belligerent Vladimir Coufal.

But they still won and that is what has set City aside from the rest in a season like no other. They deserve their two days off after Wolves to spend with family.

Guardiola’s team are not pummelling everybody in sight; their consistency at the top is just as measured as the climb to get there after Christmas.

They have paced themselves perfectly. There is more game management than in previous years and that is to their credit. 

They are not always playing particularly well and there was more than a tinge of regret in the voice of David Moyes that West Ham had not left for London with something; at least a point looked eminently achievable for much of the afternoon. City paid them the ultimate compliment by enlisting the height of Rodri in the final minutes to close the game out.

They are on course for a world record after having won their last 20 games in all competitions

They are on course for a world record after having won their last 20 games in all competitions

They are on course for a world record after having won their last 20 games in all competitions

John Stones and Ruben Dias — the goalscorers either side of Antonio’s equaliser — both made crucial headers late on to thwart danger. Unlike the stroll over Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday, City did not have sole ownership of the joystick.

They do have history in their own hands, though, and while Guardiola’s mantra is always ‘next game, next game’, he is clearly allowing himself to wonder how long this winning run can stretch. He did not mention any world records but someone seems to be keeping him abreast of the scorecard. City’s streak is now at 20. 

‘It’s the third-best run in the whole history of Europe,’ Guardiola said. That is true in terms of Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues — only Real Madrid on 22 and Bayern Munich on 23 stand above them.

The side is not fresh and is constantly being rotated, but they are winning unlike other teams

The side is not fresh and is constantly being rotated, but they are winning unlike other teams

The side is not fresh and is constantly being rotated, but they are winning unlike other teams

But the world record in major leagues is held by Ajax, who Johan Cruyff led to 26 consecutive wins in 1971-72.

Whether City can match that run or not, it is phenomenal that they are in this situation. Guardiola puts that down to not only the depth in this squad — highlighted by the £350million of talent on the bench — but the individual rivalries for places across the team.

‘In the last two games, Kyle Walker was incredibly focused. Joao Cancelo helps Kyle to know he has to play good,’ Guardiola said. ‘It is the only way. Now Kyle deserves to play but he will be so tired physically and mentally.

‘This run cannot happen when the relationships are bad. Everyone wants to play but one day they will be managers and understand what it means to be together.’