Manchester City are bloody fantastic, and it's likely nobody is going to stop them from winning the treble.
On the domestic stage, they have dismantled Arsenal (4-1), Liverpool (4-1), and Manchester United (6-3) this season. In Europe, they dispatched of Bayern Munich (4-1 on aggregate) in the quarter-finals, before an extraordinary 5-1 aggregate win over Real Madrid was completed in style with a 4-0 win at the Etihad on Wednesday night.
They are on their way to sealing that most elusive of English football crowns at the end of this season - and are set to do so with an almighty cloud hanging over everything they have achieved.
There are two schools of thought on this. On one side, you have the likes of Richard Dunne claiming that Manchester City were merely one of many clubs who could have splashed €100 million on the likes of Jack Grealish.
On the other side you have Jamie Carragher and others suggesting that the almost inevitable treble could be "worthless" if City are found guilty of the 115 charges of Financial Fair Play breaches against them.
It looks like Steven!
You said for the first 6 months of the season you weren’t the same, so we have to ask why & one of the reasons we looked at was the role of Haaland Steven, it’s our job!
Hopefully you don’t get a guilty with any of those 115 charges which will make it all…
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) May 17, 2023
Carragher's comments on Wednesday night came after he spent the early parts of the season questioning whether Erling Haaland had made the right choice signing for Manchester City - and whether City had made the right choice signing Halaand.
It's abundantly clear now that Carragher was wrong to question the wisdom of Haaland's move. He is, however, bang on the money when it comes to his questions surrounding the source of Manchester City's success.
Manchester City's ruthless brilliance an image of modern football
Pep Guardiola has built an extraordinary team at Manchester City, and it is a team that has evolved with every challenge they have met this season.
They have only lost four games in the Premier League all season - and none by more than one goal - and are in the midst of an astonishing 11-game winning streak to clinically dispatch of the faltering Arsenal in the title race.
OH Kevin De Bruyne! 🎯
A great takedown from Erling Haaland who passes to De Bruyne for a stunning run and finish! 😮💨 pic.twitter.com/Ex4pyouHVJ
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 26, 2023
The most remarkable thing is that they have done this before. Over the past six seasons, City have lost a combined six games in the run-in (final ten games of the season), and this is set to be the third time they will go unbeaten over that period.
They need just two points from their final three games against Chelsea, Brighton, and Brentford to secure a fifth Premier League title in six years, and it is the ruthless inevitability of it all that makes them such an impressive side. Once we clicked past February, you just couldn't foresee City even dropping points at any crucial stage of the run-in, leaving their opponents needing a perfect run-in to stand any hope of toppling them.
It's a credit to Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool team that they managed to win a Premier League title against this City team. Nobody else, other than this impressive young Arsenal team, has even come close.
WE’RE PREMIER LEAGUE CHAMPIONS!! 🏆 pic.twitter.com/qX7Duxoslm
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) June 25, 2020
City have the best squad in the league, with the best striker in Erling Haaland, the best playmaker in Kevin de Bruyne, the best centre back in Ruben Dias, and the best manager in Pep Guardiola. They have shown an ability to evolve, with the tactical plan employed this season completely shifting from game-to-game, as well as fundamentally changing to accomodate a focal point of attack with Haaland arriving.
The arrival of Haaland almost sums up the City machine. The one thing missing from their march to a European Cup last season was that focal point. Haaland has not only filled that gap, but has gone on to have one of the greatest goalscoring seasons in English football history. It was not necessarily the highest transfer fee City have ever paid for a player, but when agents' fees and wages are factored in, the numbers involved become hard to fathom.
It seems almost effortless, such is the ease with which City have managed this all, and the 5-1 dismantling of the European champions in a Champions League semi-final was undoubtedly the highlight so far. Guardiola has certainly said as much. They will face an Inter Milan side in the final who - no disrespect - are lightyears away, and praying for a miracle to beat them.
SILVA DOUBLES HIS & MAN CITY'S TALLY!!! ⚽️⚽️
They're just one hour away from another #UCL Final 🤩 pic.twitter.com/YIm37PmY5k
— Watch the UCL on LiveScore 🇮🇪 (@LiveScoreIE) May 17, 2023
The FA Cup final brings a Manchester derby against an exhausted and faltering United - again, that shouldn't pose too much of a problem. The treble is not only on for City, it now looks more likely than not to come together, in the culmination of Guardiola's seven years of work in Manchester.
They are a phenomenal footballing machine, and they have done it all with one of the biggest asterisks of recent memory accompanying everything they've done.
That asterisk is, of course, the collection of breaches of financial fair play rules with which Manchester City have been charged. That would be 115 charges, for those counting.
Those charges include hiding full disclosure of managerial remunerations, failure to comply with UEFA's financial fair play rules, lack of co-operation with the Premier League investigation, among dozens of other accusations regarding dishonesty surrounding the financial operation of the club.
City coming under the investigative eye of the Premier League came three years after they were banned from European competition by UEFA - a decision overturned by the Court of Arbitration of Sport, partly because of a time bar which left UEFA unable to punish City as too much time had passed since some of the alleged offences were said to have occurred.
All of this hangs like a cloud over Manchester City. It can't be ignored that the reason they are in this position is due to the eye-watering levels of investment that were pumped into the club by Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi Group in 2008. In the 15 years since, City have transformed from a club that were struggling to score more than ten league goals at home over the course of a season, to a perennial winning machine against whom Europe's finest simply cannot find an answer.
What's most curious is that, for all that rival fans are exhausted of City's relentless winningness, they are constantly crying out for exactly what the Citizens have.
Liverpool only wish their owners had the carefree attitude to throw upwards of 100 million at sealing Jude Bellingham's signature. Chelsea are sitting on the most expensive squad in the league, wishing they had the efficiency of City's sporting direction to make all that expenditure worthwhile. Arsenal are wishing they had the funds to mimic City's squad depth and hadn't been forced to play Rob Holding in the depth of a Premier League title race.
BREAKING: Qatar's Sheikh Jassim has made an improved offer to buy 100% of Manchester United 💰pic.twitter.com/H9vjW8yHzS
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 16, 2023
And, across Manchester, you have United fans who have spent the last 15 years bemoaning Manchester City's meteoric rise and everything it stands for, who are now crying out for similar cold investment from Qatar to take them stratospheric.
And it's true that modern football is defined by money and Manchester City are not the only ones who have it. Manchester United have regularly outspent them, PSG have spent disgusting amounts of money on purchasing players, and the gulf between the big and the small teams is getting wider. City are not alone or solely responsible for this.
But, in a way, they exemplify it all.
A team that were nowhere 15 years ago, now seemingly unstoppable even against Europe's very best. All thanks to simply unthinkable levels of investment, with the asterisk of potentially widespread rule-breaking accompanying their rise.
It should be possible for any team to do this in football. Leicester's 2016 title win was so special because it was a normal club achieving the highest of highs in a normal way. For that reason, you can't begrudge Manchester City or their fans this success - their rise is what any club's fans would have dreamt of 15 years ago, and it is extraordinary they have risen in this manner. It's for everything else that questions will be asked.
Things don't happen in a vacuum. The modern Manchester City are a product of modern football as a whole. This project could not possibly have existed pre-Galacticos, pre-Abramovich, pre-Glazers. And City are merely the ones who have perfected this soulless machine, in brutal and brilliant fashion.
Manchester City have perfected modern football - but at what cost to football?