February 1st, 2018. Mark my words. Manchester City will win the domestic treble.
No English team has ever accomplished such a feat. Manchester United fans boast one of the greatest seasons ever in ‘98-‘99, winning the UEFA Champions League, the Premier League, and the FA Cup. One might even argue the validity of their treble being more challenging. United faced the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the group stages, then Inter Milan and Juventus in the knockout stages, before securing a stunning victory over Bayern in Camp Nou, with both of their goals coming in stoppage time—I always hated that feckin’ Solskjær! However, there is something mystical surrounding that elusive success in all three domestic English competitions.
I will start my case with the easiest assertion of the lot; City will win the league. The Sky Blues are all but crowned Premier League Champions at this point. They have secured a remarkable run of 21 wins out of 24, with their only loss coming at the hands of my beloved (and increasingly schizophrenic) Liverpool squad. Speaking of… I am over it FSG. BUY A DAMN GOALKEEPER!!! And why aren’t we using that $150 million ‘Couthinho money’ to replace, I dunno… umm COUTINHO!!!
Alas, I digress… City! They lead the Premier League Table by a country mile, with Man United currently holding second spot, a mere 12 points behind the leaders! That gap will only widen. City have recorded an astonishing 72 goals for and only 18 against. It is like watching ‘Little Giants’ when other teams line up against them. They have an embarrassment of richest on their payroll. De Bruyne has to be one of the top five players in the world. Outside of Messi, his vision and passing ability are second to none. AND he can score. I love watching him gallop frombox to box each week. And as much as I detest this fact (***Homer alert!!!), Raheem Sterling looks to be on the verge of being a World Class player. All of the (erratic and inconsistent) natural ability he showed at Liverpool seems to have blossomed under Pep Guardiola. He looks calm on the ball and is finally in control of his faculties, AND has already doubled his goal tally from last year. To top it off, the latest reports out of the Etihad are that the Blues have acquired 23 year old Atletico Bilbao defender, Aymeric Laporte for a cool 57 million pounds. Nothing like bolstering up an already impenetrable defensive line that barely leaks .75 goals/game! The League is wrapped up.
Assertion number two is a little more precarious, primarily because of the odds that any given team has on ‘any given Sunday’. The Mancunian outfit sealed their place in the Capitol One… or The Camp Caribou… or whatever it called these days… EFL Cup Final! Awaiting them is of course, the equally cherished and loathed team of my father (and my partner’s father I might add, but that is ANOTHER story!), ye olde Gunners. I wanna give them hope. I do. Based on (much too) early evidence, they appear to be better without the discontented Sanchez, having looked the part against Chelsea in the Semi-Final. But let’s be honest, this Arsenal squad is SUSPECT to say the least. Sorry Da (and Bjarni), even with the ‘powerhouse’ that is Mkhitaryan coming over from Man Utd, I’m guessing 3-0 to the blue half of Manchester.
Thus, I come to point number three. Essentially, this is the most dubious case in the challenge that lies ahead (securing said domestic treble) for City. The storied FA Cup. My personal favorite. It was always a symbol of summer being just around the corner, even in rainy Ireland. From the joy of beating Everton in the replay of 1985, to my heart breaking in 1986 when Wimbledon squeaked out that 1-0 victory. It truly is a roller coaster! I remember that loss against Wimbledon like it was yesterday. Right after the defeat I went outside to the back yard and whacked my ball against the fence, imagining I was brought on as a sub to win the match, all while massive tears barreled down my cheeks. I was a little dramatic back then. *insert sigh here… Ahh… The FA Cup!
I doubt it takes a whole lot to get ‘jacked up’ when walking out of the tunnels at the Bernabeu to 81,000 rabid fans for a Champions League semi-final against Cristiano, Gareth, and the boys. If you can’t get yourself focused and prepared for that match, you might be better off selling insurance. But when you have to head on over to the medieval town of Newport in the south of Wales at the end of January to play on a freezing, sleet/rain soaked pitch that has been chewed up by the local rugby team… to face a 2nd Division Team in front of a whopping 9, 836 fans (most of which are probably more interested in the rugby result anyway), yeah, you might be feeling more inclined to stay home and watch the match on the telly. Just ask Spurs. I mean, the rugby lines were still on the pitch! The sod wasn’t fit for horses. I don’t know how many balls were mishit and ballooned over the net. I played on better TURF when I was 10!
Newport County currently sits in 9th place of English League Two. They are 72 places behind Spurs. So… imagine the Red Sox playing, I dunno, the Hickory Crawdads of the Class A “South Atlantic League” in the minors. They have a knockout game at home and the Crawdads pull off a 1-1 tie at L.P. Frans Stadium, forcing a second game back at Fenway! The Exiles of Newport County nearly snuck out with the win too! But for a Harry Kane equalizer in the 82nd minute, they would have found themselves with a historic passage toward the 5th round. Such is the magic of competing in the FA Cup. Every team, no matter how far down in what division, whether you are a full time pro making $250,000/week, or you spend half of your week on a construction site and make a few hundred bucks per game, every team believes they can make history.
Cue the squealing brakes, and let’s get real though. Manchester City, for all the statistics, the payroll, their undeniably annoying fans doing the Poznań celebration after a goal, are a very special squad. They pass the eye test every single time. They have the ability to hang 5 on any team in Europe. More importantly, and why they are gonna win the FA Cup, they possess the intestinal fortitude required to grind out the tough wins. Sterling’s late winners away to Huddersfield Town and at home against Southampton back in November come to mind. I sat rooting for the underdog in both cases, only to have the gumption of the Citizens extinguish my desires. Even when they are having an ‘off’ game, they find a way to get the result. Whether it is Man Utd or Wycombe Wanderers, this team is up for it every time, and come May 19th, they will indeed become the first ever domestic treble winners in England.