"One hundred points is a lot, it means how stable, how good we were all the season. The numbers are always consequences of what we have done in terms of the way we play, our mentality. You cannot achieve what we achieve in terms of many, many records if you are not a humble team, professional, and have that desire to take the ball and win and win and win," said an ecstatic Pep Guardiola after Gabriel Jesus' stoppage-time winner against Southampton aided Manchester City in eclipsing the 100-point barrier as the 2017-18 English Premier League season drew to a close.
After all, Manchester City became only the fifth club in Europe in the last decade to amass hundred points or more in a solitary domestic league season – Real Madrid (2011-12 La Liga), Barcelona (2012-13 La Liga), Juventus (2013-14 Serie A) and Celtic (2016-17 Scottish Premier League) being the other four. Such has been the novelty of this record that only the Hoops have managed to do it twice in this millennium – celebrated Welsh club Barry Town FC being the only other club in European history to scale the 100-point peak twice, that too in consecutive seasons (in 1996-97 and 1997-98).
"Premier League, 100 points, I still cannot believe it, it is a massive achievement," Guardiola's sentiments of incredulity were once echoed by Antonio Conte when the Italian guided his Juventus side to a similar feat four years ago, helping the Turin-based club to monopolize Italy's top division of football in the process. Juventus, who recently secured their seventh straight Scudetto, could be the model to follow for Manchester City in near future but there is no denying the English club would have to traverse through a far more difficult course than Juventus ever faced.
The financial ignominy of the Milan clubs combined with Napoli and AS Roma's inability to compete financially – be it in the transfer market or in terms of the wage structure of their players – played into the Old Lady's hands as far as the domestic Italian ambit was concerned. However, considering the European ambitions of the Sheikh Mansour-owned club, Guardiola has a more arduous task at hand.
Even though Manchester City broke a number of records this season – from winning the maximum number of matches (32) to registering the largest points margin (19 points) with the second-placed club – recent history has reiterated the fact that the English Premier League has not been kind to its defending champions in the past decade. Also, one should not overlook the minute detail that Guardiola's City could only secure a hundred points in the very last minute of their season, in spite of leading the title charge since December of 2017 when the rest of the contenders folded their cards.
The Premiership title defence has been nothing short of an enigma, for Manchester United were the last club to successfully defend their championship back in 2008-09 season. That the Premier League has never been the playing field for any single club is certitude, with as many as five clubs competing for the title in any given season. While the duopoly of Manchester United and Arsenal gave way to that of United and Chelsea, the coming-of-age of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool and influx of cash at the Etihad meant there has always been more than one serious contender for the title.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United won the 2008-09 Premier League with 90 points, there has been an inevitable points dip for the defending champions in the following season, with Manchester United circa 2012 being the only club to finish with more points (89) than the previous season (80 in their title-winning campaign in 2010-11) and still end up on the losing side (Sergio Aguero's stoppage-time goal against Queens Park Rangers had gifted Manchester City the coveted silverware on goal difference).
Perhaps the club most attuned to the riddle that the Premiership title defence is, has been Chelsea, who held the record for most points (95 points in 2004-05) and most wins (30 wins in 2016-17) before Manchester City shattered the records. Ancelotti's Chelsea had finished runners-up in 2010-11 but the dynamics of the Premier League had not evolved yet – the West London club finishing tenth and fifth respectively during their next two titular defences.
Chelsea, though, could attribute their abysmal performances down to shoddy planning with regards to their transfer strategy and inexcusable handling of their academy graduates combined with a lack of direction from their board and the manager at the helm. Manchester United, struggling with post-Fergie blues, haven't been the force they used to be with. Their decline to the seventh position after Ferguson's final season in charge was down to their disjointed midfield and sketchy defensive unit. Leicester City had a season of mythical proportions in 2015-16, one not even their most fanatic supporters believed they could replicate anytime soon.
Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, however, are in a league of their own. Jurgen Klopp's growing reputation at Anfield and Jose Mourinho's large-scale squad-building at Old Trafford notwithstanding, the Citizens are in a remarkable position to claim a truly elite status as a football club.
Guardiola, who has always been in search of the next challenge, seems settled enough to be tempted to build a dynasty in Manchester. City, with their disdain for the Financial Fair Play regulations, have delved into Sheikh Mansour's deep pockets to assemble a squad of elite, talented footballers in their absolute prime (Manchester City's average age was 27.1 years this season). Their youth academy bustling with technically astute players at all age bands, Manchester City most definitely have a headstart in cementing their status as one of Europe's powerhouses.
The club needs to stay clear of certain pitfalls, most significant of which is to adapt to the changing times. Not only must Manchester City ensure that Guardiola is never starved off the kind of players the Spaniard prefers to work with, but the club should also be wary of complacency, especially if they wish to scale the European summit.
Making the club a self-sufficient one and enhancing its brand should definitely be an agenda for near and distant future, but Manchester City must also learn from Chelsea and Manchester United's mistakes to forge their own path, for only the highest quality of football can ensure sustainable success in the mystery that is the English Premier League.
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Updated Date: May 14, 2018 19:22:37 IST