Twice in the history of the English Premier League has a club won 13 matches in a row in a single season. Arsenal did it in 2002 and Chelsea did it last year, and both teams also won the Premier League title in comfortable fashion.
So when Manchester City tied those Arsenal and Chelsea teams with its 13th consecutive win last week against West Ham, it was a good indication the Sky Blues are clear favorites to win the title. City dashed through the first 15 matches without a blemish on its resume. The only hiccup was a draw with Everton in the second week of the season. Other than that, it's been all wins for a team that's threatening to go down as one of the best in English history.
On Sunday, City got the opportunity to set the single-season record. To do so, the Sky Blues needed to pass their most difficult test: a match against Manchester United, their biggest rival and closest title competitor, on the road at Old Trafford. It's by far the biggest game of the season, and if City won we could start talking about what the Sky Blues can achieve besides just a Premier League title.
We can do that now. City went into the Theatre of Dreams and vanquished United with a 2-1 win, its record-setting 14th straight.
United suffered a few defensive lapses on set pieces, something a team simply can't do against a team as efficient as City. While United was scrambling like mad for most of the match, City was calm and composed. Even though it was a tight game for the entire 90 minutes, City never seemed panicked or afraid of suffering a draw, much less a loss. And now that the Sky Blues have beaten the only team in the Premier League nearly as good as them, they know there's nothing they can't do and no one they can't beat. This could be a very special season for the blue half of Manchester.
United had to be feeling good for most of the first half. City has shown a penchant for dominating teams this season, and it didn't do that to United early. Although the Sky Blues were in control -- as expected, considering United manager Jose Mourinho always parks the bus in big matches -- United wasn't out of the match.
But David Silva changed the match in the 43rd minute with City's first goal. United defenders shut off on a City corner and left a slew of attackers unmarked. The cross clanged off Romelu Lukaku to Silva, who applied a simple finish past David De Gea for the 1-0 lead.
United showed an immediate sense of urgency following Silva's opener. It was almost as if United's players knew they couldn't let City go into the half with the lead, lest the Sky Blues come out the other side, dictate play and not allow United back into the game.
United got a response thanks to poor defending from City. In the second minute of stoppage time, a long ball was played across the pitch for Marcus Rashford in the box. It was a desperation ball toward the end of the half that wouldn't reach its destination 90 percent of the time. But two City defenders failed to clear the ball as it flew into the box, and Rashford flicked it in to level the match at 1-1.
Poor defending on set pieces once again bit United with another mistake from Lukaku 10 minutes into the second half.
Kevin De Bruyne and Silva set up for a free kick a bit outside the United box. De Bruyne feigned a shot, sending United defenders in one direction, but Silva followed him up and sent a cross in to the far post. Lukaku was in possession to make a play, but he made a mess of his clearance, which smacked off another player and into the path of Nicolas Otamendi. Otamendi swept his shot pass De Gea for his fourth goal of the season and a 2-1 City lead.
Oh Lukaku NOOOOO pic.twitter.com/KXqJxmw5qU- NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) December 10, 2017
United found its chances few and far between after that point. Ederson made two point-blank saves on a late flurry at goal in the final minutes of the match, but those split seconds were the only moments it seemed like United had any chance to draw level. When City took the lead, it killed the game and came away with a fairly comfortable win.
This City team is what was envisioned when Pep Guardiola was named manager before last season. It took a year for him to makeover the club in his image, but the transformation is complete. City has the look and feel of those brilliant Barcelona and Bayern Munich teams that Guardiola coached to domestic domination.
We're not even through the first half of the season, but it's safe to say City has one hand on the title. The win gave City an 11-point lead over United at the top of the table. If United or any other club is able to charge and challenge the title, it'll be equal part brilliant comeback from the challenger and disastrous collapse from City.
So what else can be achieved by City this season? First and foremost is the Champions League. City has won the Premier League in recent years and it expects to win it every year. Guardiola was brought in to win the Champions League. With the Premier League pretty much locked up, I wouldn't be surprised to see Guardiola rest some of his best players on EPL weekends to have them ready for midweek Champions League clashes. If they can win the Champions League, a treble of EPL, UCL and the FA Cup isn't out of the question.
But the most difficult feat City has the potential to meet is more esoteric than a simple title. Can City go undefeated? Only the famous 2004 Arsenal Invincibles have accomplished that feat in the Premier League. While we can go ahead and predict a City title, predicting an undefeated season is another matter. No matter how good a team is -- and City is damn good -- all it takes is one bad day to have a loss and lose the undefeated record. We're not even halfway through the season, so it's far too early to make any predictions about City going unbeaten. But it's not too early to have the conversation.
If any team has ever had the chance to join Arsenal among the ranks of Invincibles, it's these Sky Blues.
* * *
Cy Brown writes about football, golf, soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.