Pep Guardiola’s incredible team have become the first in English football history to win four top-flight titles in a row. So, does that make them the best English side of all time?

Another year, another Manchester City title.

Sunday’s 3-1 win over West Ham at the Etihad made it six titles in seven years for Pep Guardiola, and a record-breaking four in a row. They are the first side in English football history to win four consecutive top-flight titles.

It’s therefore natural to ask, is this version of Manchester City the greatest team this country has ever seen?

Not only have they done what no team has ever managed before, they have also seen off two of the best also-rans in the Premier League era – a 92-point Liverpool in 2021-22 and this season’s exceptional Arsenal. Throw in last season’s treble and the possibility that next weekend they’ll become the first team in English football history to win back-to-back doubles, and you quickly see that a decent case can be made for them being England’s greatest-ever team.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the riches City are lucky to have. There is also the hardly insignificant matter of 115 charges for alleged breaches of the Premier League’s financial rules hanging over them, which are impossible to ignore, though City strongly deny them. The outcome of their hearing – whenever that happens – will understandably alter the narrative around this discussion. Regardless of its outcome, though, there is no denying that City have spent their way to the top.

But that fact doesn’t change the undeniable truth they have become a sensational football team. With a date for the hearing yet to be set, the discussion here is focused solely on City’s footballing achievements.

What they have managed, with four successive titles and six in the last seven seasons, is completely unprecedented in this country. Manchester United twice won three in a row earlier in the Premier League era (1998-2001 and 2006-2009), while Liverpool (1981-1984), Arsenal (1932-35) and Huddersfield Town (1923-1926) all managed three in a row in the old First Division, but could not manage a fourth.

For a team to win the title these days, they have to be a more complete unit than when those other teams managed three in a row. There is more at stake and clubs have more staff to cater for all the players’ needs when it comes to recovery, sleep, nutrition, and much, much more. It therefore takes more to win the title, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it has clearly always been very, very difficult to dominate for four years on the trot.

And City have dominated to an extent that was barely imaginable before they and Guardiola came along.

Over the last four seasons, City have amassed 359 points – 49 more than anyone else. They have averaged 2.4 points per game, winning 73.7% of their Premier League matches and losing just 11.2%. They have scored 372 goals – 49 more than anyone else – at an average of 2.4 per game. They have conceded 125, which is 31 fewer than any other ever-present team, but also fewer than Nottingham Forest (135), Bournemouth (138) and Sheffield United (167), each of whom have been in the top flight for only two of those four campaigns.

Manchester City goals and shots Premier League

Go back another year to 2019-20 and you’ll find the only season in the last seven that anyone managed to beat City to the title (Liverpool). Even that year, City scored 102 goals – the third-highest total by any team in a Premier League season. A couple of years earlier, City became the first team to amass 100 points in a season. They remain the only team to do so.

Over the last four seasons, City have developed as a team, too. The signing of Erling Haaland in the summer of 2022 was probably the most significant moment in that period, because the Norwegian’s arrival meant Guardiola finally had a traditional number nine that he had chosen, having spent years never really fully trusting Sergio Agüero and rotating his midfielders in a false nine position.

The logical conclusion for many was that by adding a goalscoring machine like Haaland, City, who at that point had won four of the last five Premier League titles, would become completely unstoppable.

It has turned out that way, but it hasn’t been quite as straightforward as many assumed it would be.

What hadn’t been considered fully was what City would lose by adding Haaland.

Haaland is an exceptional finisher, but he is not a technician like Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish, Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez or Raheem Sterling, who occupied the attacking positions in 2021-22, when City collected 93 points on the way to winning the league. By bringing Haaland in, City would also lose one of those players from their starting XI.

It took some getting used to. Although Haaland scored fairly consistently over the course of his first campaign in England – going on to break the Premier League record for goals in a season – there were still some teething issues. They were less fluent in possession and stuttered midway through the campaign. Over the course of the entire season, they had 113 fewer shots than they had managed in the previous campaign.

But they clicked in the new year and found their groove with Haaland up top. From late February on, they won 12 straight league games to storm to the title, and they carried that form into both the Champions League and FA Cup. In June, City wrapped up a historic treble – only the second team in English football history to achieve that feat after Manchester United in 1998-99.

History shows it is difficult to go again after winning the league, but City have done just that for a fourth straight season. This year, they have done exceptionally to keep pace with Arsenal at the top of the table. They lurked behind their title rivals for much of the campaign and only needed the slightest slip from Mikel Arteta’s men to sneak past them into first place.

They have become a different beast this season. Foden has come into his own, and Julián Álvarez showed his worth, particularly with De Bruyne absent through injury for the entire first half of the season.

De Bruyne, too, has been excellent in the second half of the season. Since his return in early January, the Belgian has registered 17 assists in all competitions – three more than any other Premier League player has managed in the whole of 2023-24. During a below-par team performance in a crunch game at Tottenham on Tuesday, De Bruyne stepped up with the assist for a Haaland tap-in to settle his team’s nerves and put City into a lead they never surrendered.

Kevin De Bruyne assists 2023-24

Part of City’s improvement this term has been the result of a more proactive defensive approach and playing higher up the pitch. They have become a better pressing team, recording more high turnovers – winning possession within 40m of the opposition’s goal line – in 2023-24 (417) than they had done in any other Premier League season on record (since 2010-11). They have also recorded their highest total of goals following a high turnover (13). Both numbers are also the highest of every team in the Premier League this season.

Manchester City high turnovers 2023-24

They are playing even higher up the pitch than before, with the average distance from their own goal that their attacks start (46.4m) being further than in any other season under Guardiola and by far the highest of all teams in the Premier League this term.

This has resulted in even more control of games than they previously enjoyed, with opponents pushed even further away from City’s goals for longer periods. The average speed of City’s attacks has dropped to 1.38 metres per second – the slowest City’s open-play sequences have moved towards the opposition goal on average in any season since Guardiola came in. It won’t come as a surprise that City have equalled their joint-lowest tally for counter-attacking goals in any Premier League season on record (since 2006-07), with just two in the whole of 2023-24.

One player who has played a key role in that is Rodri, who in the last couple of years has developed into one of the best midfielders in the world. He has gone from a ball-winning defensive midfielder to a Champions League-winning goal-scorer, and then this season has become an all-action midfielder who is everywhere. And one that – literally – never loses.

Rodri has gone well over a year and a quite incredible 73 games for club and country without losing a single game. That includes the whole of the 2023-24 campaign. Once again he scored a goal at a crucial moment on Sunday, the Spaniard stepping up to restore City’s two-goal lead against West Ham.

City’s only defeats of the season – three in the autumn after his red card against Nottingham Forest and one more at Aston Villa in December – came when Rodri was missing through suspension. When they have him, they do not lose. It took a penalty shootout for City and Rodri to be stopped by Real Madrid in the Champions League (and no, that doesn’t count as a defeat).

Being so reliant on Rodri might be raised as a reason against calling City a truly great team. A team is all about the collective rather than any one individual, one might argue.

But Rodri is so vital to this City team in part because he is almost always available. We didn’t find out whether Arsenal were any worse off without Declan Rice this season because he played every game, but that isn’t a reason to criticise them as a team.

Rodri’s consistent presence for the second half of the season was crucial to City hauling Arsenal in at the top of the table with a run of form through the spring that has become typical of Guardiola’s City sides.

Their manager has built a team that thrives under pressure, and when push came to shove in 2023-24, they were simply unstoppable. They ended this season with a 22-game unbeaten run in the league, winning 18 and drawing four of those games. And a late-season run of form like that is nothing new at the Etihad.

City’s record from March onwards over the last three seasons reads: played 36, won 30, drawn five, lost one, and that sole loss (plus one of the draws) came at the end of 2022-23 after the title had already been wrapped up and Guardiola was resting players ahead of the Champions League final.

This is a hell of a team and one that consistently performs when it matters most.

Accurately comparing teams across generations is an impossible task and one that will never produce definitive answers. After City won the treble last season, comparisons were instantly being made between their class of 2022-23 and United’s 1999 treble-winners, but nobody could truly say which team was greater.

But after City added to theirs by doing something no team in England has done before and won a fourth consecutive top-flight title, there is more reason than before to argue that this team is the greatest ever.

The ominous thing for everyone else is looking for a reason for this dynasty to end. After another league triumph, there’s no sign of them letting up.

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