In the 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday night, Pep Guardiola saw the best performance of his time in charge of Manchester City.
The Catalan coach could barely find sufficient superlatives to describe the display of his side in Kharkiv, but “outstanding” and “incredible” demonstrated the satisfaction felt.
The final scoreline flattered Shakhtar, who could feasibly have lost by five, six or maybe even more. They could have suffered the same fate as Burnley, who left the Etihad Stadium on Saturday having conceded five.
This sort of thing has become the norm for a City side that has scored five or more goals in a league match 27 times since the last time rivals, and last season’s Premier League runners up, Manchester United did the same.
The fact United could get near City last season wasn’t such an indignity purely because the success of Guardiola’s side was unprecedented, breaking the record for the most points ever tallied over a Premier League campaign.
Conventional logic dictated that they wouldn’t be able to repeat such an achievement. But convention doesn’t always apply to Guardiola’s teams.
Three months into the new season and it appears that City are, in fact, getting even better. This is evident in the early season performances of two players in particular – Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte.
Were there to be an award for Man City’s player of the season so far, the pair would be front runners.
Neither were even considered automatic, first team picks for City last season, with Bernardo taking time to find his feet after joining from Monaco in the summer and Laporte signing in January. Now, however, they are mainstays, both finding the net in Tuesday’s Champions League win over Shakhtar Donetsk.
So impressive has Bernardo been, there’s a case to be made that he, along with Eden Hazard, has been the player of the season so far in the Premier League. His emergence as a truly top tier talent has given City yet another string to their attacking bow.
Defending against the likes of David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and the rest was already difficult enough.
The Portuguese international’s versatility has also proved important for City over the opening few weeks of the season, playing as a holding midfielder in the away draw against Liverpool earlier this month.
Guardiola is a coach who demands his players fulfil a number of different roles in the team, and Bernardo certainty satisfies that criteria. Whether it’s in the final third or in a deeper position, he has given City another dimension.
Factor in the return of Benjamin Mendy from a long-term injury that ruled him out of the majority of last season, plus a fully fit and available David Silva as well as the summer signing of Riyad Mahrez, and there’s little reason to believe Man City will fail to at least match the achievements of last season.
Still unbeaten at the top of the Premier League table, they’re on course for another landmark campaign.
This perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. Unlike Jose Mourinho’s, whose greatest success has come early on in tenures at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, there is evidence to suggest Guardiola’s teams hit their peak around their third season. Take his great Barcelona side, for instance – their Champions League triumph of 2010/11 was the Catalans at their best.
At both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola has left burned out by his own intensity. Given that he has done nothing to change his manner as a personality, it’s likely that he will suffer a similar sort of fate at Man City.
But before the seemingly inevitable fall, there could be a rise to even greater heights. The signs are at least pointing in that direction.