YOU only have to sit and admire Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in full flight to understand they are something truly special.
The liquid engineering behind that machine-gun passing.
Pep Guardiola has produced a team of sublime skill and devastating talent
The levels of precision which should be impossible at such high tempo.
This unlikely fusion of geometry and ballet.
It is all a triumph of the imagination. Guardiola’s imagination.
And yet, so soon after a Champions League thrashing by Liverpool and a capitulation which lost them a glorious coronation in the Manchester derby, it is difficult to make a case for these new Premier League champions being historically great ones.
Guardiola’s City may achieve the highest points and goal tallies of the Premier League era.
But for now, they cannot be regarded as all-time greats to rank alongside Arsenal’s Invincibles, Manchester United’s Treble winners or the team featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney which swept to three titles in a row while reaching back-to-back Champions League finals.
Those whose memories stretch back beyond the Premier League re-branding, will recall the dominant Liverpool teams of Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish, the Busby Babes and Holy Trinity teams of United as well as Brian Clough’s meteoric Nottingham Forest.
A couple of years from now, though, we could be regarding City in that same bracket.
City are good enough, young enough and rich enough to build on this season and ascend into the heavens.
For those four months, they were as dominant as any English league club has ever been
And, so soon after those defeats by Liverpool and United, it is easy to forget quite how good a league campaign theirs has been.
From August 26, when Raheem Sterling stole an injury-time winner at Bournemouth until December 27, when Newcastle couldn’t even be bothered to attack them at St James’ Park, City won 18 league matches in a row.
That was not just a Premier League record, it was the longest winning streak in the 130-year history of the English top flight.
During that time, City won six league matches by at least four clear goals – 5-0, 6-0, 5-0, 7-2, 4-0, 4-0 – and they defeated all the rest of the Premier League’s big six.
For those four months, they were as dominant as any English league club has ever been.
Seven fateful days in April should not completely overshadow that achievement.
After his maiden campaign in the Premier League last term, Guardiola was still being widely doubted.
Could this pure footballing fundamentalist conquer a competition as physically intense and demanding as the Premier League?
To prove their greatness, City now need to successfully defend their Premier League title
There was logic to that questioning then; but now it sounds ludicrous.
City have advanced so far and thrilled the pants off any football lover.
Most importantly, they spent their vast wealth wisely last summer.
They were clearly weak in goal and at full-back and those issues were addressed decisively.
The signings of Ederson, to replace the hapless Claudio Bravo in goal, and Kyle Walker, whose £50million transfer fee now looks thoroughly reasonable, have helped improve City no end.
It is not all about recruitment though. Guardiola has significantly improved players such as Sterling, Nicolas Otamendi, even the frozen-out John Stones.
And then there’s the fact that first-choice left-back Benjamin Mendy missed the vast majority of the season and Fabian Delph was converted from a reserve midfielder into a champion full-back.
In the last four games Mendy played, City scored 20 goals and conceded none. Yet they’ve barely missed the former Monaco man.
Already in place last season was City’s attacking fluidity. The awesome foursome of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Sterling and Leroy Sane, operating behind either Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus, have reached new levels this term and given the Sultans of Ping FC their pass-and-move signature tune.
To prove their greatness, City now need to successfully defend their Premier League title – an elusive feat which no team has achieved in a decade.
Indeed, if we assume Chelsea won’t pull off an astonishing late turnaround, four of the previous five English champions will have disappeared from the Champions League places the very next season.
And of course City must also conquer Europe – which they have not even come close to achieving after a decade spent dripping with oil money.
Guardiola’s own record in the Champions League has been a tale of heavy defeats in the latter stages, since the more recent of his two wins with Barcelona in 2011.
So there is much work still be done if Guardiola if going to complete his City project.
But the readies are at the ready, the will is strong and the manager’s imagination is boundless.