The thrashing that Manchester City gave Real Madrid last Wednesday was quite unprecedented in a sense. The Champions League has traditionally been dominated by Real Madrid and it is unusual for them to surrender so meekly.
However, Pep Guardiola’s side out-passed, outthought and definitively outscored them over two legs and now only Inter Milan stand between the Cityzens and their first Champions League title. Moreover, they are also on the verge of becoming only the second English club to win the coveted treble after rivals Manchester United achieved the feat in 1999.
With the Premier League title all but ensured and the FA Cup final against Manchester United to be played in the first week of June, City are virtually a couple of games away from winning the treble. Not to mention that this going to be their fifth league title in six seasons should they be able to win it. But what makes them so good?
Manchester City’s enviable depth
However good a team’s starting eleven might be, it is impossible for it to be consistently successful without quality players in their reserves. Manchester City could afford to leave players like Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez on the bench against Real, which is a luxury very few clubs can afford.
One can take Alvarez’s case as an example. The 22-year-old World Cup winner has 16 goals and five assists this season, but has mostly been used as a substitute. The skilful Mahrez is among the best wingers in the world but has to compete with Bernardo Silva, who scored a brace on Wednesday, for the right-winger’s shirt. That means that the Cityzens have two of the best left feet in the business in their squad.
In addition to that, they are also able to shuffle their back-three with the dependable Aymeric Laporte often starting on the bench. Even Nathan Ake’s injury did not affect them much. Moreover, players like Rico Lewis and Sergio Gomez have also played their parts when they were called upon.
There is no doubt that City have the solid financial backing to sign those players, but so do a club like Chelsea, who have found out that huge spending does not always guarantee success on the pitch.
Flexible formation and style of play
Manchester City have primarily played with a 4-2-3-1 formation under Guardiola until before the start of the second half of the ongoing season. But, they have since switched to a back-three. John Stones has partnered the incredible Rodri as a defensive midfielder and Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva or Mahrez have played as wing-backs.
The 3-2-4-1 formation has helped Manchester City have more control in the midfield and accommodate more attacking players in their set-up. With players like Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan quite adept at running into the opposition penalty box to score goals, Erling Haaland has not been alienated despite being a more conventional No. 9 and not very compatible with the usual style of play Guradiola’s teams have.
Haaland has scored a staggering 52 goals this season and quite a few of them have come from aerial balls played into the box by his teammates. Manchester City have become more direct at times to alter their regular style of play and the hulking Norwegian has benefitted from it.
On a few other occasions, De Bruyne’s through-passes from counter-attacks have allowed Haaland to find the back of the net. If they continue their current vein of form, there is no reason why they cannot win the treble this time around.