Manchester City are nine games away from the treble. Their manager, Pep Guardiola, doesn’t want to talk about it, and it’s a feat that has only been achieved once before in English football by Manchester United in 1999, but City have given themselves the opportunity to lift the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup in the same season.
Guardiola and his team have got a lot right, but have also had obstacles to overcome and still face tough games in the run-in, particularly against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals and Manchester United in the FA Cup final. Completing the treble this season would write City’s class of 2022-23 into the history books, and could also trigger an era of dominance at home and abroad that few teams have managed before. So as City chase the treble, here is a breakdown of their ups and downs this season, their remaining fixtures and whether they can triumph on all three fronts.
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What’s gone right?
The obvious place to start is Erling Haaland. In the past, big signings like Rodri and Jack Grealish have taken a year to settle, but Haaland is only nine months into his City career and has already scored 51 goals in all competitions.
On occasion at the start of the season, Guardiola suggested his players were still trying to figure out the best way to find him but the Norwegian striker scored on his Premier League debut against West Ham in August and hasn’t stopped. Crucially, Haaland has also stayed fit. He only managed 30 appearances in all competitions for Borussia Dortmund last season, but at City he’s missed just three games through injury.
City have done a good job of keeping other key players healthy. Ruben Dias, Phil Foden, John Stones, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte and Kalvin Phillips have all had short spells on the sidelines, but for most of the season Guardiola has had a fully fit squad to choose from. They’ve also hit form just at the right time. City are now on a run of 14 wins from their last 15 games, building momentum at the perfect point in the campaign.
What problems have they faced?
It’s not all been plain sailing. The squad revamp last summer was larger than expected after Raheem Sterling left for Chelsea and Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko signed for Arsenal. City had more players at the mid-season World Cup in Qatar than any other club in Europe, and in January Joao Cancelo was a shock departure when he left for Bayern Munich on loan, leaving Guardiola with Nathan Ake — usually a centre-back — as the first-choice left-back.
Then, in February, the club were charged with more than 100 breaches of the Premier League’s financial rules. It caused enough uncertainty within the squad that director of football Txiki Begiristain addressed the players in a meeting to address their concerns. City insist they are innocent of any wrongdoing, though the legal process could take years to run its course and the range of punishments if found guilty — everything from points deductions to relegation — could create uncertainty.
The news broke while City were in the middle of an inconsistent run of five wins from 10 games in all competitions, which included league defeats at Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. After a 4-2 win over Spurs in January in which City were forced to come back from 2-0 down, Guardiola accused his players of being “happy flowers” and questioned whether his team had the drive and determination to compete with Arsenal for another title. It turns out that they do.
Could they win the treble?
The simple answer is yes. Guardiola is a fan of saying that doing the treble in England is almost impossible because only Manchester United in 1999 have managed to achieve it, but City are just nine games away. With Chelsea in disarray, the biggest obstacles in the title race run-in are back-to-back away games against Brighton and Brentford in the space of four days at the end of May. Guardiola has already highlighted the danger posed by Brighton, a team he says are the “best in the world” in the way they build up their play.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid stand in the way of a second Champions League final in three years. Guardiola won’t take anything for granted after the dramatic semifinal exit at the Bernabeu a year ago. City dominated long spells of that tie, winning 4-3 at home only to lose in Madrid with three goals after the 90th minute; they’ll fancy their chances of getting the job against the Spanish giants this time around.
The FA Cup final against Manchester United on June 3 is a complication because any Manchester derby is a frantic, fraught occasion and a first cup final between the two teams will be electric. City won 6-3 at the Etihad in October and lost 2-1 at Old Trafford in January. City will start as favourites, but it’s never that simple.
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What happens next?
The worrying thing for the rest of England and Europe is that whether City win the treble or not, there are plans to strengthen over the summer. Two midfielders could arrive, although Real Madrid have jumped ahead in the race to sign long-standing target Jude Bellingham. There was interest in Ben Chilwell before he signed a new contract at Chelsea, and City will also try to sign a left-back if the right opportunity emerges. They have already been linked with Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich and Theo Hernandez at AC Milan.
We are already in a period of City dominance and it doesn’t show any sign of ending. Guardiola’s team have won the Premier League — considered the toughest domestic championship in the world — in four of the last five years and have reached at least the semifinals of the FA Cup each year since 2019.
The Champions League is historically unpredictable, but City have now reached at least the last four in three consecutive seasons and whatever happens between now and this year’s final in Istanbul in June, they will start next season’s campaign as favourites.
City have flirted with the treble before and if they’re even stronger next season, challenging for Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup at the same time could start to look routine.