Manchester City are four wins away from greatness and Sunday’s win over Everton showed exactly why they are so close to what would be an amazing Treble.
People often talk quite flippantly about how a team has a winning mentality without properly examining the details behind that, but everything City did at Goodison Park was the perfect example of what their level of success entails.
I was quite surprised before the Everton game when I saw that Pep Guardiola had gone with three of the back four who faced Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday – the only change was Aymeric Laporte for John Stones.
I think that was out of respect to the threat posed by Everton after their recent performances, but also a sign that Guardiola has complete belief in the players he picked – not just in their physical condition, but with their mindset too – in the middle of a hugely pivotal week of their season.
One of the most difficult things in football is to play a really big game and then go straight into one that, on paper, is much less of an event.
City did that when they went from playing away at the Bernabeu, in a monumental game between two of the best teams in the world that was watched all over the planet, to a Sunday afternoon at Goodison Park against a team battling relegation.
For starters, Goodison just doesn’t have the same razzmatazz, but more importantly there was also the risk that, given Everton’s league position, some City players would think they could just turn up and win easily.
That complacency didn’t happen because of the professionalism of the team, with all of them doing their bit defensively when it mattered, and at the heart of it all was a rock-solid back four.
So, when I talk about a player’s winning mentality, I am talking about Manuel Akanji giving Alex Iwobi the same respect he did to Rodrygo, and Kyle Walker treating Dwight McNeil as if he was as good as Vinicius Junior.
It was exactly the same with the attitude of forwards Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden, who were left on the bench against Real then came back in on Sunday.
They didn’t sulk or look like they were frustrated about missing the big game, instead they knew they had a job to do and did every part of it – which included Foden tracking back in the second half to win an important defensive header at the back post.
That’s the mentality you need to win trophies.
You need the ability to win games too, of course – through creativity and goals – but you also need the mindset and the physicality to go the distance on so many fronts every season, the way City do.
Most of their players went to the World Cup before Christmas but they all look so strong and, fitness-wise, it is as if they are peaking at exactly the right time.
After watching them on Sunday, I think they all deserve credit.
There are so many individuals in City’s squad that you could eulogise, but it is the collective that has got them in this position, and that’s what got them the points against Everton too.
City need one win from their remaining three games to be champions for a third-successive season and can seal the title when they play Chelsea on Sunday.
A defeat for Arsenal at Nottingham Forest on Saturday would give City the title regardlessThe Premier League, and a fifth title in six seasons, is almost done.
One more win against Chelsea, Brighton or Brentford will finish the job, so now it’s really just a case of what else City will win – and who can stop them.
It will take one hell of a performance from Real to end their Treble hopes at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday and the same applies to the FA Cup final against Manchester United.
These teams don’t just have to find a way of stopping City, they have to try to score against them City’s best defence under Guardiola?City are renowned for being amazing to watch, brilliantly creative and for scoring lots of goals but I don’t think they always get enough credit for how good they are at keeping the opposition out.
Especially in the last few months, they have been really solid and stable, no matter who has been in their back line.
They’ve won their past 11 league games while conceding only seven goals and I’d go as far as saying they are as good defensively now as I’ve seen since Guardiola arrived at Etihad Stadium in 2016.
I remember at the start of the 2019-20 season when Laporte was injured and City were left with only two senior centre-halves in John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, a pairing that Pep clearly didn’t trust.
Vincent Kompany had left that summer and had not been replaced and Fernandinho had to fill in at the back.Now, there is huge competition for places and room for great variation across their back line, but changing positions or trying different combinations does not seem to matter.
When Joao Cancelo left to go on loan to Bayern Munich in January, I wondered who would play at left-back, but Nathan Ake and now Akanji have both been brilliant there.
I would argue that both of those players are playing the best football of their careers, and it definitely helps that most of City’s defenders are doing the same.
John Stones looks happier than he’s ever done at City, whether as a right-back coming into midfield or at centre-half, and even Kyle Walker seems to have gone up a level at the age of 32. He just looks unbeatable, defensively, and is at the very top of his game.
I remember being impressed by Akanji when he played for Switzerland at the European Championship but he is someone else who has improved.
This is his first season in the Premier League but you would never know it – he is confident and classy on the ball and, physically, great without it.
The only one of their regular defenders who I wouldn’t say has got better is Ruben Dias, but that’s only because he has been so good for so long.Ake has forged a great partnership with Jack Grealish down the left flank and while Laporte hasn’t played as much as he would probably like, he showed against Everton that he can easily slot back into the team when he is needed.
Reliable Rodri is the best in the worldManchester City midfielder RodriRodri celebrates after winning last season’s Premier League – he also helped City win the title in 2021 and won the Carabao Cup in 2020 and 2021City don’t just have a fantastic defence, they have the world’s best holding midfielder sitting in front of it.That’s how good I think Rodri has been this season – I’ve not seen anyone better – so it helps that he is so durable and reliable, week after week.
He just does not miss any games.The Spain international has been at City since 2019 and the lowest amount of games he has played in a single season is 46, in 2021-22.
He has already played 51 times in this campaign.Rodri had just turned 23 when he joined from Atletico Madrid and he has grown into a phenomenal footballer.When he first joined, he was more pragmatic with his thinking when he had the ball and focused on the defensive side of his job.
Now he is far more productive in possession, pops up with some handy goals and always wants the ball in what seems like really dangerous positions.But defensively he is still absolutely brilliant at spotting danger and on top of that he is a real physical presence at set-pieces too.He is going to be massive for City when they face Madrid and, the way he is playing, it will be the same story in the Champions League final against one of the Milan clubs too. -BBC
Danny Murphy was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.