Let’s make no bones about it: On the face of how the Premier League season has gone for Manchester City this year, it wouldn’t be utterly terrible if it was scrapped entirely due to the Coronavirus outbreak. They would remain reigning champions, from the 2018/19 season, and they would have a second chance at defending that title in 2020/21 – assuming that football would be able to resume in August. It also opens up the huge opportunities for stoking that rivalry that’s developed with Liverpool… you can already see how it would go: “We would have won the league.”/”But you didn’t win the league.”
But, digging a little deeper, it’s actually worth more to City to finish this current season – again, whenever possible – than to abandon it entirely. Remember: An abandoned season means the last seven (ish) months, as far as the sport and the record books are concerned, just didn’t happen. Data would run from 2018/19 straight into 2020/21, with nothing in between. A void. A nothing.
And, as underwhelming as this season has been at times, City actually have a lot to lose.
The most obvious, initially, is that they would go back to only being two-time defending League Cup winners. And this is a funny one, because recently City fans have taken to the League Cup more than any other club (possibly because the team keeps winning it). With strong teams from Pep Guardiola throughout all rounds of the competition, he’s given himself the best chance of winning the trophy each spring – and the fans, while at times disappointed not to see more youth players feature, have by and large supported the move to get to Wembley each February.
Other clubs don’t get that. It’s slated as the English league’s fourth-rate competition for the top sides, third-rate competition for the rest, and other managers treat it as such, chucking out weak lineups for the experience of losing to Blackpool, MK Dons or Gillingham. It’s at these points City can’t win: if they put out a weakened side and they’re not taking it seriously, if they put out a strong team then they’re disrespecting lower-league opposition by winning big.
Yet the anger is always forgotten and City lift the trophy again the following spring. Having won five of the last seven, City have really made the competition their own over the last few years – and to lose it would be like the fans losing a little bit of themselves. Forget the Champions League, the League Cup is where it’s at.
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Equally, all of the goals that City scored this season would no longer exist. While the 68 strikes the club has made in the Premier League this season might not immediately stand out as a reason to keep the campaign live, the 16 netted in the competition by Sergio Aguero definitely are. Without those, which included a hat-trick at Aston Villa, the striker would be plunged back into second place in the list of foreign goalscorers in the Premier League.
Worse still, expunging that hat-trick would also award the record for the most hat-tricks in the Premier League back to Alan Shearer – who Aguero was sharing the crown with at the beginning of the campaign. He’d be back on 11, the same as the former England striker managed in the competition.
Then there are the results themselves… City’s biggest Premier League winning margin would remain at seven goals – earned by Manuel Pellegrini’s outfit over Norwich in 2013 – rather than eight. That 8-0 was Pep Guardiola’s latest evisceration of Watford, back in late September 2019. Bernardo Silva would also lose his first top-flight hat-trick if that game bites the dust.
Even worse, for fans of the more macabre records at the club, it would take away City’s claim at being the only team in Premier League history to have scored eight times in a game and also conceded eight times in a game. You probably never thought that would happen when Jeremie Aliadiere slotted Middlesbrough’s eighth past Andreas Isaksson in Sven Goran Eriksson’s final match in charge, but here we are.
And it gets worse, too. As it stands, City are one Premier League missed penalty away from the record for consecutive failures from the spot. Their last miss was their fourth in a row – as Aguero fluffed his lines when facing Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel – following on from Ilkay Gundogan finding Hugo Lloris’s gloves at Tottenham, Gabriel Jesus being denied by Dean Henderson at Sheffield United, and Raheem Sterling not able to convert against Rui Patricio at Wolves. Sterling actually missed twice that day, but because the second was a retake the first miss has already been struck from the records.
As it stands, if City miss their next spot-kick, then they draw level with Arsenal’s record of five-in-a-row (Lee Dixon, Paul Merson and Ian Wright (x3) are all now looking over their shoulders). Two more and the record is theirs outright – and if this season was scrapped, then City would have to try again from scratch, since Aguero scored City’s last Premier League penalty of 2018/19, against West Ham.
There are more losers, too: Kyle Walker’s cameo in goal at Atalanta would be consigned to folklore rather than record, while Tommy Doyle and Taylor Harwood-Bellis would still be waiting for the first appearances for the senior team. That latter would also no longer have scored in the FA Cup, either.
It might be the case that City haven’t been top of the Premier League table since about 6.30pm on Saturday 17 August 2019, but City fans have spent years trying to explain the difference between history and success – in the face of criticism from clubs that won trophies in the 1980s and 1990s. Success, while fun at the time, is just data and a list of trophies.
History, while it might be a living nightmare sometimes, is very interesting. History is holding the ball by the corner flag to get relegated. History is being the only reigning champions to go down the following season. And history is being the only team to score and concede eight in a game in the Premier League and to have the most consecutive missed penalties.
Let Liverpool have their title. This is far more interesting.
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