When Raheem Sterling headed home within the first two minutes on Sunday, the end result was already inevitable. Whether 1-0 or 5-0, Manchester City were going to beat Arsenal. A few days earlier they were being held to a 1-1 draw by Everton, but it felt as though the three points were destined to be City’s. They won 3-1, of course.
This is the way with Manchester City right now. They have won 18 successive matches. On Wednesday they face Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League round of 16, and will surely make it 19. West Ham United are next in the crosshairs on Saturday. Will that be 20? Probably.
No winning run lasts forever, but at times it feels like City’s could. Just as a 100-point season felt unattainable for decades and Pep Guardiola’s mob just went and did it anyway in 2017-18, the Sky Blues just keep finding new ways to reach heights that used to feel impossible.
They have the means to set new boundaries, of course. They are bankrolled by the Abu Dhabi royal family, a sports-washing exercise, per Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others, for a state which needs international support to offset its human rights record. The ins and outs are well known, and in the eyes of many will forever place an asterisk against what City are able to achieve.
What they also have is probably the greatest manager in the world at the moment, a man who is unrelenting in his pursuit of perfection, who won’t let questions over the ethics of his employers affect his desire to draw a spotlight on the club. It would probably give City better PR were they to not be so bloody good at football, but Guardiola won’t stand for that.
The 6-0 FA Cup final romp against Watford in 2019 was followed by a question in the post-match press conference about exactly how City’s manager was being paid. He treated the inquiry and the inquisitor alike with disdain, made no apologies for the lopsided nature of the scoreline which likely tilted the line of questioning and just went away and set about making his team even better. They didn’t win the league last year – the once-in-a-generation juggernaut that was Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool saw to that – but they have certainly made up for that most rare of setbacks over the past few months, turning what most had pegged as anything between a three and seven-horse title race into a procession.
City aren’t going anywhere. It might suit some to believe that the questionable background of their owners will catch up with them, but they’re not about to slink off into the sunset. Just as people predicted Pep wouldn’t last beyond the same four-year stint he oversaw at Barcelona and yet now here he sits, on the verge of a third title in his fifth City season, with two more years on his contract and a newly-evolved side looking every bit as destructive as any other in the club’s history.
They haven’t won a Champions League yet but it can’t be long now. Plenty of neutrals continue to take solace in the fact that neither Paris Saint-Germain nor City have collected a European title, but that won’t last. PSG got to the final last season, while City have made a semi-final and the quarters three times. Neither are far off finally breaking that particular duck. And the only way is up from there.
So if there is an inevitability about City winning football matches right now, it has nothing on what might yet be to come. They will keep winning league titles with the odd rare exception, they will lift the League Cup almost every year, make an annual impression on the FA Cup and become an increasing threat on the Champions League season after season. At least for as long as Guardiola just keeps insisting that his team gets better and better and better.
And that’s without considering the wondrous players they have. But then, whether it’s Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus up front, Ruben Dias or Aymeric Laporte at the back, Kevin de Bruyne or Phil Foden in midfield, City are pretty unstoppable. And they will be more often than not for some years to come.