Manchester City have secured their fifth Premier League title in six years, cementing the team’s position as the dominant force in English football.
The club took the top spot on Saturday night without kicking a ball after their closest rivals, Arsenal, lost against Nottingham Forest.
The Abu Dhabi-owned side are also on track to win a historic treble if they can triumph in both the FA Cup and the Champions League next month, a feat managed only once before in England by crosstown rivals Manchester United more than 20 years ago.
“We have the perfect balance of experience and world-class youngsters. I’ve never felt so confident going on to the pitch”, City midfielder Jack Grealish told BT Sport after his team swept aside Real Madrid, the most successful team in European football, in the Champions League semi-final last week. “We feel unstoppable.”
Does the club’s success risk denting the Premier League’s most important selling point: intense competition? And what lies behind City’s imperious form?
The sky blue era
The Premier League, the most watched domestic football league in the world, prides itself on excitement, and distributes TV revenue far more evenly than other European leagues in order to blunt the financial power of the richest clubs.
On some metrics, City’s latest league victory is no more than an echo of the period of dominance enjoyed by rivals Manchester United under legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Red Devils won the Premier League 13 times under his leadership, including three in a row, twice. United also notched up five titles in six seasons between 1996 and 2001, including the historic treble win in 1999.
But based on points and goals scored through the season, City looks to have set a new standard since the league was formed more than three decades ago.
According to figures from data consultancy Twenty First Group, the Premier League still maintains a level of jeopardy — measured by a team’s average chances of winning the league over a season — not seen in rival European domestic competitions, such as Germany’s Bundesliga.
A strong showing from north London side Arsenal this season, meant City had — on average — a 68 per cent chance of winning the league this year, compared to Bayern Munich’s 89 per cent chance of clinching the German title.
The Pep effect
Some pundits put City’s command of the Premier League down to one thing above all others: Spanish manager Pep Guardiola. He is widely regarded as the best coach in modern football.
Evidence of his strengths as a coach and tactician can be seen in City’s performance compared to expected results based on the club’s wage bill. Staff costs have long been a good guide to a team’s likely performance, but City have outperformed their expected points won by a wide margin.
“While City have undeniably signed very good players in this time, Guardiola’s ability to improve players and extract world-class performances out of them is virtually unparalleled in world football,” said Omar Chaudhuri, chief intelligence officer at Twenty First Group.
City have certainly not been shy in the transfer market since being acquired by a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family in 2008. The club has spent €2.3bn on new players since then, according to Transfermarkt, a figure only surpassed by Chelsea, after the west London club’s record-breaking shopping spree this year.
City’s net spend, which strips out revenue generated by player sales, is €1.45bn over that period, the highest in the world.
However, following Guardiola’s arrival in 2016, the club looks to have started spending and selling a bit smarter. Since then, City have spent €1.24bn on signings, less than Chelsea, Juventus and Barcelona, while the net spend is lower than that of United.
At the time of the takeover in 2008, City ranked 20th in Deloitte’s league table of Europe’s richest clubs. Success has brought with it commercial riches, taking the club to the very top of the rankings last year with revenue from the 2021/22 season of €731mn — thanks largely to the highest broadcast income in football.
City are already the odds-on favourites to win the Premier League next season, but they could face new challengers beside Arsenal, this year’s runner up, with stronger challenges expected from recent close rivals Liverpool and Chelsea.
Newcastle United have also made rapid progress since being acquired by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund in late 2021, while Manchester United may be under new ownership by the start of next season.
Off the pitch, however, a dark cloud hangs over the club, which raises questions about whether City’s success has been achieved fairly. A threat of sanctions looms since the club was referred by the Premier League to an independent commission to review more than 100 allegations of financial rule-breaking over a period of more than a decade, charges City strongly denies.
If found guilty, potential punishment includes points deductions and even expulsion from the league. However, it remains unclear when the process will reach a conclusion.
Data visualisation by John Burn-Murdoch and Daniel Clark