Galloping through an already wounded cavalry, Phil Foden charged at the Borussia Mönchengladbach defensive line in the style of a mid-16th century knight on horseback sieging the castle of the realm.
It wasn’t the sort of goal that will feature on the litter of promotional reels pushed out by broadcasting companies over the next decade to advertise the supreme beauty of the Champions League, but it was the sort of goal that wins the competition.
Manchester City’s second on the night and fourth without reply in the tie, was a joyful blend of individual brilliance and meticulous attention to detail. The incisive elegance with which the England midfielder travelled across the Puskas Arena turf, before slotting a defence-splitting reverse pass to teammate İlkay Gündoğan to toe-poke home, personified Pep Guardiola’s vision on how football should, and will, be played.
It was the goal that Pep daydreams about whilst playing a round of golf, or sipping a fruity Rioja over tapas. Not even an orchestra of the world’s finest defenders – past or present – with blueprints on exactly how the attack will unfold would have had the credentials to prevent the net bustling in that situation. Every microcosm of detail to that goal would have been practiced to the Nth degree on the training pitches of City’s Football Academy. Yet, for the layman, this move wouldn’t have even won ‘Goal of the Night’.
Another class Man City goal! 💥💥
Phil Foden with an exquisite turn, driving run and no-look pass 🔥
İlkay Gündoğan finishes the move off with composure and Pep Guardiola’s side are on the rampage! pic.twitter.com/cDde81A4cA
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 16, 2021
Instead, that accolade fell at the feet of the perpetually brilliant Kevin de Bruyne, whose 20-yard strike clattered the underside of the crossbar before ricocheting across the line in pin-ball fashion to open the scoring for the Blues. If the Gundogan goal was an advertisement for the importance of repetition in coaching, the de Bruyne effort was everything great about the spontaneity of the game.
And it’s that wealth of talent in Guardiola’s ranks which has led to the inevitable resurfacing of conversations surrounding City winning all four competitions they’re competing in this season – the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League. A discourse that has become all too familiar to followers of English football over the last few years whenever the Mancunian club are enjoying a fruitful season.
Whilst in the midst of a similarly imperious record-breaking run during the 2017/18 campaign, approaching the tail end of the season City were poised, like they are now, to conquer on all four fronts. Odds were slashed on them winning everything (including a BAFTA for their Amazon Prime documentary), but a relatively cataclysmic run of results put an end to their prospects of a quadruple.
An unlikely defeat to Wigan Athletic at the fifth-round stage squashed their hopes of an end-of-May Wembley rendezvous with the FA Cup and an equally crushing loss to Premier League rivals and eventual finalists, Liverpool brought a finish to their pursuit of a first-ever Champions League. City were, however, able to finish the season with a respectable double – Carabao Cup triumph was complimented by a stellar 100-point league victory.
Guardiola and City’s biggest issue has been controlling the uncontrollable. The moments in one-off matches where the margins between progression and failure rely on the swing of a boot, the weight of a pass or the width of a goalpost.
It was mooted that last season’s single match Champions League knock-out format may have suited the illustrious Catalonian manager, given the lack of room for overthinking and tactical mishaps. But not even the simplicity of a singular 90 minute match-up tempted Guardiola to play by the rule book – his unorthodox three-at-the-back system anchored by an ageing Fernandinho, a defining factor in yet another limp European exit.
Of course, it’s not impossible for City to win all four trophies this season. Having just come off the back of a club-record 21 consecutive wins and with a maximum of 17 matches to play if they progress to the finals of the Champions League and FA Cup, a perfect run-in isn’t an unthinkable entity.
— Goal (@goal) March 19, 2021
But it just won’t happen. A pandemic behind-closed-doors season, in which the supporter has been starved of the terraces, has subverted the way in which we view players, managers and the game itself.
As our only method of watching football has been through the medium of television, the beautiful game has been reduced to an almost video-game like experience. Every pass, shot, tackle, corner-kick and even throw-in is expected to be done with the highest level of perfection. If it can be done behind a screen on a PlayStation, why can’t it be done behind the screen in real life?
If City are to do the improbable, win all four trophies and become the first ever English side to complete a quadruple, a season where the conventions of domestic and European football have been tipped upside down would be the one to do it in. Having seemingly wrapped up the league title already and a vulnerable Tottenham Hotspur their opponents in the League Cup final, the blues look set to at least equal their trophy haul of 2018.
It’s the murkier waters of knock-out fixtures in the Champions League and FA Cup which may prove non-negotiable for the armada from Manchester, and with the knowledge of any potential European opponents now known, a video-games console will most likely be the only place City do secure a quadruple.