EPL: Will Manchester City win the quadruple?

Pep Guardiola's defending Premier League champion could add three more trophies to the EFL Cup. But what are its chances of doing so?

Pep Guardiola's introspective rambles at press conferences have dwindled in number of late.   -  Getty Images

Fifteen games. Sixty-five days. Three competitions.

Pep Guardiola understandably does not want to entertain quadruple talk as the 2018-19 season enters its final stretch.

Unfortunately for the Manchester City manager, the relentless form of his team and a mapped-out route of what the EFL Cup winner require for glory in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League means an unprecedented feat feels improbably tangible.

But how likely is it that City will pull off the footballing equivalent of a gruelling high-wire act while being battered by a pair of chopping crosswinds? Here, we examine their chances.

Can it do it?

Quite simply, yes. City approaches its potential clean sweep with a deeply stocked, high-quality squad. Within that, there is a cluster of key players in supreme form.

Sergio Aguero is an elite striker enjoying the form of his career, while now effortlessly in tune with demands by Guardiola that once seemed beyond him. Raheem Sterling's stock as a bona fide match-winner as impressive on the field as off it continues to rise.

Bernardo Silva is another man in player-of-the-season form — tireless and exquisitely skilled, to the extent that Kevin De Bruyne has barely been missed during an injury-ruined campaign. The Belgium midfielder and left-back Benjamin Mendy should be back to fuel the final charge.

 

Then there is the manager himself. Regular observers of Guardiola media conferences will note a crackling, sparky tone of late; the mumbling, introspective rambles dwindling in number as a modern coach approaches a defining hour with palpable enthusiasm.

On the field, he has a side grooved to his specifications. Riyad Mahrez was City's only major pre-season signing and is playing a bit-part role. Guardiola's first-choice players know their jobs inside out and he is regularly affecting games with well-judged substitutions.

All looks rosy from this perspective, but one wobble on the high wire and a damaging tumble is likely to follow.

FA Cup

If City fails to complete England's domestic cup double, it will represent a major shock. The rest of the Premier League big six fell by the wayside as Guardiola's men gorged on Rotherham United, Burnley and Newport County before a quarterfinal scare against Swansea City.

In Brighton and Hove Albion, it faces the weakest of the remaining contenders a day before Wolves and Watford play out an intriguing Wembley semifinal.

Wolves represents a very credible threat, having knocked out Liverpool and Manchester United. It also boasts Premier League victories over Tottenham and Chelsea this term — displays that were preceded by a stirring 1-1 draw in August against the defending champion.

 

Premier League

City's title defence looks set to go to the wire against a similarly excellent Liverpool side.

Jurgen Klopp's men lead the way by two points for now and plenty could change before City gets around to its game in hand — the small matter of a Manchester derby at Old Trafford on April 24 might be absolutely pivotal.

City's pedigree as league winner from last season gives it the edge in the eyes of many observers, but this is a charge rather than a canter.

From Liverpool's Sunday showdown against Tottenham, its run-in looks kinder. Four of its remaining seven games take place at Anfield. City is away from the Etihad Stadium in five out of eight, including a trip to Brighton on the final day.

Should it go to the final weekend, Liverpool appears to have the trickiest assignment versus Wolves. Nuno Espirito Santo's top-six specialists could end up playing a very significant role as domestic kingmakers.

 

Champions League

If City is able to negotiate a quarterfinal meeting with Spurs, which falls either side of a trip to face a Crystal Palace side that triumphed at the Etihad in December, Juventus or Ajax will await in a semifinal that concludes in the week of the Premier League finale.

The first leg takes place at Tottenham's new stadium and, although Guardiola has generally had the better of Mauricio Pochettino since arriving in England, a fervent home crowd roaring on a fired-up team with nothing to lose will give City an uncomfortable parallel to its collapse against Liverpool at the same stage last year.

Lionel Messi's Barcelona lurks in the other side of the draw, where Liverpool faces Porto as heavy favourite. The Reds retaining commitments at home and abroad through to the Champions League semis could work in City's favour.

The verdict: will they do it?

Despite putting itself in a fantastic position, history suggests City will stumble just enough at some stage to leave the quadruple out of reach.

Chelsea reached the 2006-07 Champions League semifinal with the League Cup secured but lost to Liverpool on penalties. An FA Cup final victory over Manchester United partially atoned for being unable to catch Alex Ferguson's team in the league.

Ferguson's last great side was at the peak of its powers in 2008-09, only for a shoot-out defeat to Everton in the FA Cup semifinal to end quadruple dreams. Guardiola's brilliant Barcelona won the Champions League showpiece, leaving United with the Premier League and League Cup to parade.

As City's Swansea scare and mid-season losses to Palace, Leicester City and Newcastle United show, slip-ups can come any time and are more likely within a relentless schedule. If Guardiola's men reach the Champions League last four, they will play every weekend and midweek from Saturday's trip to Fulham until the last day of the Premier League season.

 

In the battle for England's top flight, Liverpool's form is an obvious problem. When Guardiola won a 2008-09 treble with Barca, a 6-2 thrashing of Real Madrid was the team's only win in the final six La Liga matches as it eased up and focused upon Europe.

In 1999, Manchester United's treble winners drew four of their final eight Premier League games. Ferguson's most celebrated side won the title with 79 points. Liverpool already has 76 and it must be assumed City has to put pedal to the metal from here until the finish line.

The trio of games against Tottenham feels like the moment things will reach breaking point. Tottenham visits the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League immediately after the Champions League quarterfinal, the last of three encounters in 12 days. Three wins out of three in such quick succession against a fellow elite side feels like a huge ask.

When Guardiola faced off against Jose Mourinho's Madrid four times in 18 days in 2011, Barcelona won the overall war but the battles were split — two draws and Madridista glory in the Copa del Rey.

The Spurs trilogy feeds directly into the Manchester derby. Expect the strain to tell decisively in either the Premier League or Champions League at this stage. "Ask me at the end of April," Guardiola replied when the Q-word was uttered recently. If his team can ensure the question is still there to be asked at that stage, all bets will be off.