Will Manchester City win 4 in a row?

Pep Guardiola is aiming to SMASH the English record for consecutive titles
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Manchester City is aiming for four consecutive Premier League titles. That would be an English league record! But how likely are City to win 4 in a row?

Although no bookmaker is publicly offering odds on this bet, Nerds of Sport currently rate Manchester City’s chances of winning 4 Premier League titles in a row at 7/5 (2.40). Read on to see exactly how we weigh up City’s chances.

September 2019 Roadmap

What does Man City need to do this month to stay on track for 4-in-a-row?

Manchester City won 10 points from 12 in August, which matches their own benchmarks from the two title-winning seasons. In September they play just 3 games in the Premier League:

  • Sat 14th September: Norwich (a)
  • Sat 21st September: Watford (h)
  • Sat 28th September: Everton (a)

What an acceptable September for City would look like

In City’s last two Premier League title-winning seasons, they won 100% of the points on offer in September. To maintain the same standard of performance this season, City must pick up all 9 points from the September fixture list.

A clean sweep would keep the club on course to win the 2019-20 Premier League, and take another step towards 4-in-a-row. Honestly, there is nothing in the September fixture list for them to fear, with only the trip to Everton posing any potential difficulties.

What a bad September for City would look like

If City wins 7 points or less in the month of September, we might look at lengthening the odds of the club winning 4-in-a-row. A lot would depend on how the other Big Six teams perform, as well as how poorly City does.

What a perfect September for City would look like

The minimum standard is a 100% record, so City can’t really outperform. However, Liverpool dropping some points could well boost City’s chances of winning the title.

The background to City’s bid for 4 consecutive Premier League titles

Man City’s 2018-19 title win was the first time in a decade any team has successfully defended the Premier League trophy.

This season, City will aim to win a third title in a row, which would match the English record for consecutive title wins – a record which stretches all the way back to 1888.

Just 4 English clubs have won 3 titles in a row – Huddersfield in the ’20s, Arsenal in the ’30s, Liverpool in the ’80s, and Man Utd (on two occasions) in the Premier League era.

But when Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi royal family bought City back in 2008, he didn’t just dream about matching records – but of breaking them.

An unprecedented 4 Premier League titles in a row would certainly place City among the elite category of English clubs and rewrite football history.

But what are the chances of Manchester City achieving this goal?

Who are City’s Premier League rivals?

Over the last decade, a so-called ‘Big Six’ has dominated English football. These six clubs (Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea, and Liverpool) have finished in the top six positions in each of the last 3 seasons – and in six seasons from the last 10.

Finishing in the top six means that these elite clubs earn a greater share of the Premier League prize money, as well as qualification to lucrative European tournaments such as the Champions League.

This situation creates a ‘virtuous cycle’ of the Big Six having the means to purchase the best players, which gives them a better chance of again finishing in the top 6.

Here is how the Big Six shape up in terms of revenue for the last season for which we have comparable data (2017/18).

ClubAnnual RevenueRevenue RankPosition in EPL
Man Utd£590m1st2nd
Man City£500m2nd1st
Liverpool£455m3rd4th
Chelsea£443m4th5th
Arsenal£388m5th6th
Spurs£380m6th3rd

While money is needed to build a winning team, it’s not the only factor involved in clinching the Premier League. If it was, City’s rivals Manchester United would be champions every year.

City possesses all the right qualities required of a serial title winner – and these qualities should see them secure 4 consecutive Premier Leagues in a row.

6 key areas where City have the edge over their rivals…

if City does win 4-in-a-row, these will be the reasons why

We have identified six crucial factors where the Sky Blues have an advantage over everybody else in the Premier League. These are:-

  1. Their coach
  2. The way they dominate possession
  3. Their use of ‘gegenfouling’ to stop counter-attacks
  4. Their ability to peak at the right time
  5. Their mental strength within games
  6. Their financial power to buy their rivals’ best players

Each month we evaluate City’s current performance on each of these areas, to judge whether or not the club still has what it takes to win 4 consecutive titles.

1. City has the best coach in the world

and he finally looks happy

At Barcelona in the early ‘90s, Pep Guardiola played under the watchful eye of Johan Cruyff, one of the all-time greats of football management. As a coach, Pep quickly adopted the basic principles of Cruyff’s possession-based style of play but has made significant improvements to the strategy.

Whereas Cruyff only focused on how his side played, Guardiola studies each opponent closely, making important tweaks to his teams’ approach to each game. Pep has used dozens of different formations at City – often switching between them during matches – and now has an extensive toolbox of tricks at his disposal. His teams find ways to prise open the tightest of defences and stop opposing teams from building counterattacks.

Guardiola’s flexible approach has been a huge success –the Catalan has an 80% title-winning ratio across 3 different clubs in 3 different countries. Not even Cruyff, Sir Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho can compete with such career consistency.

During his stints at Barcelona and Bayern, Guardiola didn’t always look happy, falling out with upper management and medical staff at each club. So far, Pep is suffering no such problems at City and seems to be free from any interference from above. Indeed, he appears to be calling the shots now, as City have recruited his ex-colleagues at Barcelona as Director of Football and CEO, just to make him feel at home.

Manchester City’s organizational structure is specifically designed to keep the best coach in the world happy. Pep’s contract runs until the end of the 2021-22 season, giving him and City enough time to win the two more titles they need to secure four-in-a-row.

The coaching situation in September 2019: Pep keeps on finding the tactical solutions required to win titles. Only Pocchettino at Spurs and Klopp at Liverpool can get anywhere near Pep’s level of genius.

2. City hoard possession better than anybody else

At Bayern, Pep Guardiola once remarked that his dream was to enjoy 100% possession.

It took a year or so of rondos to get his team playing the way he wanted it, but now City has perfected the passing system which denies the opposition the ball. This is made clear in the possession stats, with City the only Premier League team to have had more than 60% possession in the 2018-19 season.

Opposing teams spend most of the game chasing after the ball, expending valuable energy, while City looks to break them down. And of course, if the opposing team doesn’t have the ball, they cannot create goal-scoring opportunities.

The possession situation in September 2019: At the start of the new season, City already have the best possession stats in the Premier League. They are dominating games and taking names.

3. City can play dirty when necessary

Never mind ‘Gegenpressing’ – City have mastered ‘Gegenfouling’

When they lose the ball, the City players work hard to get it back – especially in the first few seconds of the so-called ‘transition’.

Most modern coaches consider transitions to be key moments in the game – and when their teams lose possession, the players are trained to immediately close down the man on the ball. Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp even came up with a catchy German name for this: Gegenpressing.

Guardiola’s City team also excel in the gegenpress – but they often go one step further. When they lose the ball in their opponent’s half, they tend to commit a minor foul and give away an innocuous free-kick. These fouls rarely are obvious enough to warrant a yellow card – but they break the momentum of the counterattack and allow City time to regroup into their defensive shape.

Overall, City is the cleanest team in the Premier League. That makes logical sense – since the team enjoys more possession than anyone else, and there is little point in fouling the opposing team when they don’t have the ball.

But when you look at the number of fouls committed per minute spent out of possession, City are top of the bad-boy charts.

Guardiola himself professes innocence of any deliberate gegenfouling strategy, but in the City-authorized Amazon documentary All or Nothing, assistant coach Mikel Arteta can be overheard advising the team’s attacking midfielders to “make a foul” after a transition.

It might be dirty, but gegenfouling won City the vital points which were the difference between finishing first and second last season.

The gegenfouling situation in September 2019: City continue committing tactical fouls in their opponents half. However, against Bournemouth, Kyle Walker picked up a yellow card for committing a couple of such fouls in quick succession. Are referees getting wise to the tactic? This is something to keep an eye on.

4. City know exactly when to peak

The Premier League is a marathon, not a sprint. To win it, teams need to pace themselves and hit peak form at the right times. Detailed month-by-month analysis shows that Guardiola’s City team do exactly this, increasing performance levels at the critical early and late stages of the season.

In their first title win under the Spanish coach, City went on an incredible 18 game winning streak between August and November. In the second title-winning season, they won 14 games on the bounce between February and May. This team is conditioned to build early leads in the autumn and finish strongly in the spring.

With that being said, City has come unstuck in the winter months. They won just 11 points from a possible 18 midway through Guardiola’s second season, and then just 15 from a possible 27 points in his third. That wasn’t exactly the form of champions – and if anyone is going to overtake City, the best time to do it is wintertime.

The form situation in September 2019: City won 78% of the available points in the previous two months of August and ended up winning the title each time. This August, they matched this benchmark with 10 points from a possible 12, so stay on course. In September, they should hit top form, and take 9 points from a possible 9.

5. City has the mental edge needed to win crunch games

…even Sir Alex Ferguson would be proud

City won 14 games on the bounce in the thrilling run-in to the 2018-19 season. As it turned out, every one of those games was a must-win. Even a single draw would have meant handing the Premier League trophy to Liverpool, who finished just one point behind them.

But it’s interesting to note that very few of those 14 games were easy for City. In fact, in 6 of the matches, the team was still level at half-time. Yet on no occasion did City panic, chased the game, or left gaps at the back which the opposing team could exploit.

City kept its shape, and continued playing its usual game of patiently probing for an opening – and each time they came up with the necessary win, usually by just one goal. That’s the kind of championship-winning mentality that City need to secure 4-in-a-row.

City’s mental situation in September 2019: It’s going to be interesting to see how City cope with the added pressure of matching (and breaking) the record for consecutive Premier League titles. We also want to see some City games going to “Fergie-time” and Guardiola sending up Ederson for corner-kicks like Sir Alex Ferguson used to do with Peter Schmeichel.

6. And if City can’t beat them, they can always buy them

City have the financial muscle to weaken their closest rivals while strengthening their own squad

When the Abu Dhabi Royal Family took control of Manchester City in 2008, they inherited a club whose idea of a decent season was finishing mid-table. Catching up with their rivals would be a mammoth task.

City’s strategy for rapid domestic domination was to sign big-name players from every one of their Big Six rivals. This had the double-effect of strengthening City’s team while weakening its direct competitors.

In total, City has spent £233m on players from other Big Six clubs since 2008, while in the same period, these rivals clubs have spent just £24m on City players. Looking at the actual transfers themselves, you can see exactly why there is such a big financial disparity.

When Man City buys from a rival, they purchase star names in the prime of their careers. Examples include Carlos Tevez (signed from Man Utd for £26m in 2009), Raheem Sterling (signed from Liverpool for £57m in 2015), and Kyle Walker (signed from Spurs for in 2017).

In the other direction, City let fringe players leave to other Big Six clubs on a free or nominal transfer. Examples here include James Milner (a free transfer to Liverpool in 2015) and Willy Caballero (a free transfer to Chelsea in 2017).

City’s strategy of buying the best from direct rivals has been a massive success, as they won the Premier League within 4 years of the takeover, and they have bagged 4 titles in 11 seasons, including the last two under Guardiola.

City’s transfer situation as of September 2019: Since Guardiola took over, City have focused less on poaching stars from the rest of the Big Six, and have switched to signing players from foreign leagues. The last big-name signing from a domestic rival was Riyad Mahrez from Leicester in 2018 – and Leicester aren’t even another Big Six club. This unwillingness to sign the best players from direct competitors could come back and bite them if they are not careful.

Six BIG risks to City’s 4-in-a-row bid

…And what the club could do about them

But Manchester City is unlikely to have it all their own way. The Premier League is the most competitive in Europe, and the club faces several big risks to their quest for 4 consecutive titles.

Some of these risks are related to issues with their current squad of players, some to City’s murky (allegedly) financial dealings, and some to the simple fact that other teams also get better every season.

Here are the big challenges that City will face while aiming for 4 Premier Leagues in a row, as well as how the club could try to solve them.

1. City’s defence might not be strong enough

City stalwart Vincent Kompany left the club at the end of last season, and as of 1st August 2019, City has failed to sign any new central defender to replace him – leaving the club with just 3 specialists in that area of the field.

This looks woefully short to us, considering that City will be competing in 4 different tournaments, will potentially play 65 games, AND most of these guys are current internationals.

Against Brighton in August, Laporte picked up an injury which looks like it will keep him out of action for several months. It’s a real problem for City, and they should sign someone in the winter transfer window. Our suggestion: Dejan Lovren from Liverpool. He is available, and signing him would weaken their biggest rival.

2. Can City find a replacement for Fernandinho?

The holding midfield position is in many ways the most important part of the Guardiola system. This player fills in the spaces that others leave behind and allows the team to quickly rebuild its shape after they lose the ball.

No matter which formation Guardiola opts for, there will always be a holding midfielder present.

At City, the current first choice for the holding midfielder role is Fernandinho. The elegant Brazilian’s importance to the side is clear from last season’s stats – in the games he missed, City’s points percentage dropped from 87% to 81%.

Unfortunately, Fernandinho is 34 years old now and City needs to find a long-term replacement. While Rodri has impressed in the games so far, we need to see if he can keep this level of performance up.

3. Financial Fair Play (FFP) could seriously hamper City’s moves in the transfer market

Man City’s defensive and midfield issues could be solved by throwing more money at them – after all, City has plenty of cash.

But the club needs to be careful about spending its way out of any problems – if it doesn’t, it could face punishment from UEFA for breaching their Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.

City is already on thin ice on this matter, as there are doubts about the value of the club’s sponsorship deals with Etihad Airways. UEFA have taken the opinion that City’s Abu Dhabi owners (who also own the airline) are artificially funneling way too much money to the club.

Due to the question marks over its income, City is under pressure to bring its spending down. The club desperately needs to start focusing on only buying the kinds of players it really needs. If it fails to do so, City won’t have enough money left over to strengthen the vulnerable defensive and midfield areas, while at the same time respecting the FFP rules.

Guardiola’s obsession with collecting as many short, tiki-taka attacking midfielders as possible must be reined in if the squad is going to be able to win the next two EPL trophies. Can Guardiola’s friends in upper management persuade him to only buy players that will benefit the team, without him getting offended – like he did at Barcelona and Bayern?

Pep is a rather mercurial coach, so there’s plenty that could go wrong for City here.

4. Will City be distracted by the Champions League?

If there is one tournament that City are even hungrier to win than the EPL, then it’s the Champions League – and there are several motivations for the club’s obsession with the trophy.

Pep Guardiola needs to silence the accusations that he can’t win the Big Cup without Messi, while City’s Abu Dhabi owners are desperate to get their hands on it before Paris Saint Germain do (the French club are owned by the rival Qatari Royal Family).

In added intrigue, UEFA has recommended that City be banned from participating in the 2020-21 Champions League for breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules. That case currently lies with the Court of Arbitration in Switzerland, and we expect a ruling later this year.

For these reasons, City will be going all out to win world football’s top club competition this year.

And yet, perhaps the best thing to boost the chances of City winning 4-in-a-row would be a Champions League ban. A list of the last ten Premier League title winners suggests that an early exit from Champions League allows teams to focus on winning the English title. Indeed, in 2016 and 2017, the clubs which won the Premier League didn’t even qualify for European competition.

SeasonEPL WinnerProgress in UCL
2018-19Man CityQuarter-finals
2017-18Man CityQuarter-finals
2016-17ChelseaDidn’t qualify
2015-16Leicester Didn’t qualify
2014-15Chelsea Round of 16
2013-14Man City Round of 16
2012-13Man Utd Round of 16
2011-12Man CityGroup Stage
2010-11Man UtdFinalists
2009-10ChelseaRound of 16

Given the team’s thin defensive and midfield cover, we worry that any long run in the Champions League will count against City. The best-case scenario for City to go on a successful 4-in-a-row bid would involve getting knocked out in the group stage in 2019-20 and banned from the competition altogether in 2020-21.

Just don’t expect Pep Guardiola to agree with us.

5. What if Liverpool reproduces the form of last season?

Some football experts felt that winning 97 points (the third-highest total in history) and yet still finishing second would lead to a kind of ‘hangover’ for Liverpool in the coming season. They couldn’t see Jurgen Klopp’s players repeating the consistent level of performance that they did in 2018-19.

But Liverpool has started the season with the same gusto they ended the previous one, while Klopp and his squad will reflect that it was only a John Stones clearance 11mm from the goal line that denied them the title last season. Liverpool looks like it will make a full assault on the Premier League this season – the 30th anniversary of the team’s last title.

How can City neutralise this threat? It’s too late in this transfer window for Guardiola to weaken Liverpool’s squad. But if Liverpool pushes City to the limit again in 2019-20, the Sky Blues should respond by buying one (or more) of their key players.

6. City can’t write off the rest of the Big Six

Of course, there remains the possibility that Man Utd, Chelsea, Spurs or Arsenal can mount a title challenge in one of the next two seasons.

Of course, there is also the unlikely event that one of the other members of the Big Six could pose a challenge to City. Let’s look at each team’s chances.

Arsenal

Arsenal has invested in a rather decent attacking trident of Lacazette, Pepe and Aubameyang, as well as David Luiz in the heart of the defence. It’s certainly entertaining, but a tilt at the Championship looks years off.

Chelsea

Chelsea has entrusted former player Frank Lampard to coach a young squad, shorn of the main creative spark Eden Hazard. This could be a difficult year for Chelsea, and they should pose little threat to City.

Spurs

Spurs have moved into a nice shiny stadium, finished 4th last year and reached the Champions’ League final. This should be a happy club – but they are plenty of issues in North London. Eriksen only has a year left on his contract, and Pocchettino increasingly looks unhappy with his position as coach. Spurs will make a ton of profit in the next few years, but winning actual trophies looks a big ask.

Man Utd

Lastly, there is Man Utd. Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, four different coaches have spent a grand total of £870m – and they only have a bloated, dysfunctional squad to show for it. Former player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is tasked with cobbling a team together to challenge City and the rest. While becoming champions next season is surely beyond them, we think the Red Devils have enough quality to finish in the top 4 and may grow to become a more credible threat in the 2020-21 season.

What do the bookies say about Man City winning 4 in a row?

As of the 2nd September August 2019, we can’t find any bookie offering odds for City winning BOTH the 2019-20 and 2020-21 Premier League titles. It seems that 4-in-a-row is on nobody’s radar yet 🙂

In terms of the immediate season ahead, William Hill is currently quoting odds of 4-9 (1.44) for City to win the 2019-20 Premier League.

We agree that City is the heavy favourite to win the Premier League in the upcoming season. But when we look at the risks ahead, we aren’t so confident of City repeating the trick in the 2020-21 season. Here’s how we rate City’s 4-in-a-row chances:

A lot depends on how well City cope with the loss of Kompany, how long Laporte is out injured, and how effectively Rodri replaces Fernandinho.

We also want to see how the FFP story plays out – if City holds back from strengthening vital parts of the squad because they are worried of being kicked out of the Champion’s League, then that might be turn out to be a real problem.

On the other hand, if they do get kicked out of the Champion’s League, then that would boost their chances of winning 4 consecutive titles – since they would have less to distract them.

Finally, we want to see if Liverpool can build on last season’s performance and if they can hold on to the important members of their squad.

Or could Man Utd, Spurs, Arsenal or Chelsea get it together within the next 2 years? Stranger things have happened – just look at Leicester City in 2016.

Right now (September 2019) we give City odds of 7/5 (2.40) of winning both this coming EPL title AND the next one – and securing an unprecedented four Premier League titles in a row.

As the season progresses we will update our view of City’s chances, and when a decent bookie finally starts offering odds on 4-in-a-row, we will tell you all about it.

It’s certainly going to be an exciting time ahead – whether you are a City fan or not.

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