F365 Says: No European asterisk on Man City’s marvellous Treble

Ian Watson

With the Treble sealed, Manchester City have stamped an indelible mark on English football after completing the most successful domestic season ever. Pep Guardiola chucked in the Community Shield and called it a “little Quadruple”. But even that’s not enough for some. It’s not enough for Guardiola.

For the impossible-to-please, this incredible, unprecedented achievement may be laced with a tinge of regret over the one competition that got away, and the manager’s ruefulness over that single failure is a trait of the drive and single-mindedness which has created a team for the ages. But Guardiola, and everyone else, should reflect now on what this all-conquering City team have achieved, not what they have yet to.

Their FA Cup final victory, Guardiola’s first and City’s sixth, showcased the sheer dominance and power that the champions enjoy over all but one of their Premier League rivals. The theme of recent weeks has been fine margins and their grit in ducking for line first to retain the title for the first time in the face of Liverpool and the strongest ever challenge. At Wembley, with that pressure relieved, City were insistent on reminding us of their array of other qualities.

Their strength in depth allowed Guardiola to keep three of his biggest stars – Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane – in reserve with the manager staying loyal to Gabriel Jesus and the other grafters who brought the Blues to Wembley via Newport, Swansea, Rotherham and Burnley. It was another show of faith in players who are champing at the bit to play their part in creating history, even if Guardiola is willing to allow some of them to leave in pursuit of a regular run-out next season.

Such is the high level of technical quality and mental resilience running through his entire squad, it could never be described as a gamble for Guardiola to go into this final battle at less than full strength. Other managers, though, would almost certainly have lost their nerve against a Watford side hungry to make history of their own by winning their first major trophy.

The Hornets had their chances, none better than when Roberto Pereyra stared down Ederson in the 11th minute. But to Javi Gracia’s fury, it was the attacker who blinked first. The Premier League’s best goalkeeper made a crucial save to deflate Watford while prompting his team-mates to shake off the kind of sloppiness which saw Oleksandr Zinchenko present the Hornets with the break they craved.

Despite already dominating possession by that point, their escape provoked City into turning the screw tighter on Watford. Riyad Mahrez tortured Jose Holebas to such an extent the Watford left-back could be forgiven for regretting the appeal of last week’s red card which initially excused him from this chasing.

With 74 per cent possession and 12 first-half shots at Heurelho Gomes came City’s goals. David Silva ended a run of 27 games without hitting the net before Jesus and Sterling were left to argue over possession of City’s second. Watford offered a brief rally in the second period which provoked Guardiola into exchanging Mahrez for De Bruyne. With the Belgian’s arrival began the procession.

The blue ribbons were on the trophy when De Bruyne walked the ball around Gomes for City’s third but the innate relentlessness Guardiola has installed in this team meant Watford were shown no mercy. The final 15 minutes were riddled with conflicting emotions for the neutral; sympathy for a wholehearted Watford side caught in headlights of juggernaut; and awe at the ruthless nature in which City continued to devastate their dazzled opponents.

Their refusal to ease up brought City another record: they earned the Treble by becoming the first FA Cup winners to score six in a Wembley final. Watford offered a positive account of themselves but in the end, they were thankful to leave the stage without eight on the scoreboard.

It was an appropriately remarkable end to a truly extraordinary season in which City have set new standards for themselves and made new marks for their rivals to reach. That is what must be remembered.

European success will surely come. Guardiola is in a hurry to figure out how he can inspire City to replicate their domestic standards in the Champions League but it must only be a matter of time before the Blues break new ground on the continent too.

The rest of us should leave him to it and treasure this City side for the era-defining torch-bearers they have already become.

Ian Watson