How Man City and Pep Guardiola are battling history to land an unprecedented quadruple

Do you win one, two, three… or all four? Manchester City are about to resume their quest for an unprecedented quadruple title, and one of the reasons is that unlike most other teams, they have done so before.

No club has ever won the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup in the same season, but this is City’s fourth serious attempt in the last seven years.

The experience of chasing two big trophies in the final weeks of the season should help them this time around, both in terms of what hasn’t worked before and what has worked well – and one of the lessons is that mistakes can happen anywhere.

Beware of banana peels

Contest QF SF Final version
Carabao Cup Tottenham
FA Cup Chelsea Leicester/Southampton
Champions League Borussia Dortmund Bayern Munich/PSG Real Madrid/Liverpool/Porto/Chelsea

At the moment, on paper, a possible Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich or Paris Saint-Germain seems likely to be the biggest obstacle to what could be the greatest success in the 133-year history of English football.

However, the city has to watch out for banana peels. They have appeared in unlikely places so far – Wigan (twice) and Tottenham were the teams that stopped their attacks on four fronts in 2014, 2018 and 2019.

Title/Season Premier League FA Cup League Cup Champions League Place your bets
1. 2018-19 Winner Winner Winner QF April 17
2. 2013-14 Winner QF Winner L16 9 Mar
3. 2017-18 Winner 5R Winner QF 19. February.

*Except for the 2019-20 staggered season.

The best news for City is probably that they don’t have to take on Wigan this time around, but it’s understandable why Pep Guardiola, who has also been in charge of the previous two campaigns, is painfully quick to point out that his team haven’t won anything yet.

That in itself is an anomaly: only because of the coronavirus pandemic are we now talking about a fourfold increase, and the city’s trophy case has still not been replenished since the spring.

Manchester City celebrate winning the 2020 Carabao Cup – they have won the competition in each of the last three seasons and in four of the last five campaigns.

Normally the Carabao Cup is already prepared and certainly dusted, but this year the final has been moved from its traditional place in February in the hope that fans can attend.

City take on Spurs – yes, Spurs again – at Wembley Stadium at the end of the month and will be hoping to clinch their first trophy in the nick of time.

Which one is closer?

Title/Season Team PL / Div. 1 FA Cup League Cup CL / EC Place your bets
1. 2006-07 Chelsea 2. Winner Winner SF 1. May
2. 2008-09 Man Ltd. Winner SF Winner Final version 19. April.
3. 1960-61 Burnley 4. SF SF QF March 15

PL = Premier League, CL = Champions League, EC = European Cup

However, finishing in the four major races in early April is by no means a trivial achievement.

Since the introduction of the League Cup in 1960-61, English teams have had four chances to get that far, but of the 117 attempts by 15 different clubs in the last 60 years, if you look at the data, there have only been four occasions before that where teams have got that far.

In 2007 it was Chelsea, in 2009 Manchester United and in 2019 and 2020 City, although last summer was a little different. In fact, Guardiola still had hope until Liverpool won the Premier League in late June after the season resumed following the outbreak of the coronavirus in March.

Chelsea’s effort, their best ever in a normal game, lasted until the 1st half. May and a loss against Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final. Two years later, United lost in the FA Cup semi-final at 19. April on penalties against Everton.

This team won three of the four major trophies, but also lost the Champions League final to Barcelona and had to settle for two wins.

Rank/Club Tests Best shot? Is the bet over?
1. Chelsea 15 2006-07 1. May
2. Man Ltd. 23 2008-09 19. April.
3. The city of the people 11 2018-19 April 17
4. Burnley 1 1960-61 March 15
5. Arsenal 21 2010-11 27. February.
6. Knott’s Woods 3 1978-79 26. February.
7. Liverpool 23 1982-83 February 20
8. Tottenham 5 2018-19 24. January.
9. Newcastle 3 1997-98 10. December.
10. Leeds 4 1992-93 13. November.
11. Aston Villa 2 1981-82 19. January.
12. Blackburn 1 1995-96 29. November.
13. Derby 2 1972-73 9 October
14. Lester 1 2016-17 September 20
15. Everton 1 2005-06 24. August.
*The rescheduled 2019-20 season is not included.

When Burnley almost took the lead.

Before the Premier League and Champions League era began in 1992, Burnley came closest in the 1960/61 season, England’s first-ever season of four trophies, when they finished 15th. In March they lost to Hamburg in the quarter-finals of the European Cup of Champions.

At the time, there were far fewer opportunities for quadruple participation: the European Cup was reserved for the champions or League champions, and for eight of the ten seasons from 1961 to 1971, the clubs that qualified did not participate in the League Cup.

Between 1985 and 1991, there was no chance of that happening, as English clubs were banned from Europe for five years and Liga champions Liverpool had to stay out of Europe for an extra year in 1990/91.

Burnley, here with their trophy after winning the league in 1960, were the first team to attempt to win the quadruple in 1960-61 and no other team has come close in 46 years.

Still, some teams had their chance, notably Liverpool in the late 1970s and early 1980s, who played nine consecutive seasons for the European Championships between 1976-77 and 1984-85.

The maximum effort led to a Champions Trophy, European Cup and League Cup treble in 1983-84, but they were eliminated in the FA Cup on 29. January at Brighton, where they won the 2.

Of the 23 attempts – most of them by Manchester United, who did not take part in the FA Cup in the 1999/2000 season – the Merseysiders have made it furthest in their four appearances, finishing 20th in 1982/83. February.

Title/Season Division 1 FA Cup League Cup European Cup Place your bets
1.1982-83 Winner 5R Winner QF February 20
2.1981-82 Winner 5R Winner QF 13. February.
3.1983-84 Winner 4R Winner Winner 29. January.

There is no shortage of other great teams in the modern era. The famous treble of 1998/99 did not include the League Cup, but the FA Cup – from which they were eliminated in second place. December in the quarter-final against Tottenham.

Legendary Arsenal remained unbeaten for the entire league season in 2003/04, but this was the only trophy they won that season. Their fourfold hope was destroyed on the 3rd. February ended with Middlesbrough beating them 3-1 on points in the League Cup semi-final.

Three English teams – Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City – have achieved several trebles linked to winning the league title, but United’s 1999 win of the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup is widely regarded as the greatest.

City themselves are a Guardiola XI that broke the 100-point barrier in 2017-18 and set a new record for most points in a single season – on 19. In February, they were knocked out of the FA Cup against League One side Wigan Athletic.

A year later, in 2019, City became the first English men’s team to complete a treble at home, but lost out on 17. April in Europe against the Spurs – the third best performance so far in the regular season.

Some teams also ended up empty-handed – a fate that could befall City again this year, however unlikely it seems.

Chelsea’s 2007-08 team is probably the best example. They finished second in the league by two points, lost in the final of the Champions League and the Champions League Cup, and were knocked out of the FA Cup in the sixth round.

What should the city do – and what has changed this time?

Five more wins in the last nine games would give Manchester City their third Premier League title in the last four years, regardless of how their opponents perform.

In truth, no one doubts anymore that City will win anything this season – the only question is how many trophies they will win.

When they last arrived in April 2019 with hopes of a four-game win streak, their midfielder Kevin de Bruyne described a four-game win streak as virtually impossible.

But that was because City were in the middle of a title battle with Liverpool that went all the way to the final, and was mentally and physically gruelling every week – they had to win their last 14 league games of the season to beat the Reds.

This time Guardiola can breathe easy at the top of the Premier League with 17 wins from 18 league games. In this respect, some of the pressure is off.

While City were relentless, their opponents kept dropping points. If United or Leicester maintain their current per-game points ratio, they will get a maximum of 75 points, meaning two wins will give City the title, not five.

By definition, the knockout cup competitions will be much harder to negotiate. City are the bookies’ favourites to win every game, even in Europe, but as Guardiola will no doubt remind his punters, that hasn’t helped them much in the past.

Despite his two previous successes at Barcelona, Guardiola also has something to prove in the Champions League – he’s never got beyond the quarter-finals in four attempts with City, he hasn’t won since 2011, and one of the few ways his brilliant career as a manager can be criticised is that he hasn’t got his hands on that particular trophy without Lionel Messi in his squad to help him out.

This year seems like a particularly good opportunity to do that, but Guardiola’s mantra is to take one game at a time, and so he will take this year’s final-29. May in Istanbul – not planned yet.

 

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