With 35 Premier League goals in 10 matches, Manchester City have made the most prolific start to a season by a Pep Guardiola-coached team.
Even his feted Barcelona side of 2008-09, arguably one of the finest ever in club football, managed one less.
With a club record 14 successive victories, City are top of their domestic league, through to the Champions League last 16 with two games to spare, and have already provoked debate about whether they can now emulate Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ and finish a Premier League campaign unbeaten.
The statistics say it all and for midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, the displays – such as Wednesday’s vibrant and valiant 4-2 Champions League win at Serie A leaders Napoli – are reminiscent of the best European teams in recent years, be it Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and that all-conquering Barca side. Fun, flamboyant and feared.
“I’m not sure if we are there yet,” said the German international. “We still need to prove that in every game, every competition. We need to prove that with trophies.
“But the way we play, the way we keep the ball, pass the ball, those short quick passes, especially in the midfield, and attack with a lot of players, create a lot of chances and score a lot of goals, we are going in the right way.
“This makes it fun for everyone, for us and for the supporters. People like to watch us.
“The domination is like Bayern Munich, yes, but it’s a different kind of game. The way we build up, with the quick short passes feels a bit different from Bayern for me, or Real Madrid.
“Maybe the most similar team would be Barcelona at their best with Pep. I wouldn’t say we are at their best yet, but one of the best, because of the way they dominated teams and we are doing so now.
“The way we play, the way we dominate our opponents, it feels special – and feels like it could be a very special season.
“But at the end it’s about hard work and there are many games to play and every one of them is very intense. There will be more tough games over the coming months and we need to be ready. We have a good and deep squad and I feel every single player is able to hold it on a good level. We feel ready.”
Gundogan definitely feels ready to play more of a part in City’s quest for greatness after his injury woes.
Fans have witnessed only glimpses of his undoubted quality, the kind that persuaded Guardiola to prioritise him as a first signing from Borussia Dortmund once he was announced as City boss last year – and despite the player still recovering from a serious knee injury.
A year ago this week, the evidence was there for all to see as a brace in a 4-0 win at West Brom was repeated in an historic 3-1 Champions League group tie win over Barcelona at the Etihad.
After returning from another cruciate ligament injury last December, Gundogan made his third start this season against Napoli, setting up Nicolas Otamendi’s goal, and is pushing for a place in tomorrow’s meeting with fifth-placed Arsenal.
He said: “I think I’m on a good level. I’m not fully fit because I have only played a few minutes in games. I need some game time in the future and some rhythm which is very important for a footballer. But I just try to stay fit.”
The clash with the Gunners, who went through the 2003-04 season unbeaten for their last league title triumph, will bring Gundogan up against his close friend Mesut Ozil, someone whose attributes he chose for his ‘perfect player’ last year.
As well as David Silva’s left foot, the right one of Marco Reus, Fernandinho’s passion and the strength of City’s new record scorer Sergio Aguero, Gundogan hailed Ozil’s vision as being the best among past and current team-mates for club or country.
High praise indeed given the 27-year-old had also starred previously at Dortmund and played alongside Germany’s 2014 World Cup winners.
During his three seasons at Real Madrid and subsequent £42.5 million move to Arsenal in 2013, Ozil, now 29, has often divided opinion and club followers.
Deemed lazy by some critics and frustrated fans for a languid style, poor defensive work-rate and inconsistent performances, others laud his ability to create chances seemingly at will, totalling 30 in the Premier League this season so far – the same, perhaps surprisingly, as City hero Kevin De Bruyne despite playing 273 minutes less and in a team hardly in the same form.
Jose Mourinho, who coached him in Madrid, once referred to him as ‘unique’ and Pep Guardiola is another fan, saying Ozil is a ‘big target when they lose’.
Both born in Gelsenkirchen, Gundogan has appreciated his 86-cap compatriot’s talents for many years.
And he hopes others will do so too, despite plotting his downfall at the Etihad before they join up with Germany for friendlies against England and France.
“I wish him all the best – but in this game against us, hopefully he does not do as well,” laughed Gundogan.
“It’s difficult to explain how good he is. I play professional football to the highest level you can play and I know exactly in the game, you know, sometimes it’s about the details of the game.
“When I watch a game, when I watch him when he controls the ball, when he makes a turn, when he touches the ball, he makes it look so easy.
“Maybe at the moment he’s not able to assist as many or create as many, or score as many goals as he did before.
“Maybe his numbers are not as good as the past seasons, but honestly, watching him just feels magical. I know how tough it is in certain situations to do things like he does. He makes it look so simple.
“He’s got almost 100 caps for Germany, that’s a credit to him, it shows his quality. He’s just two years older than me and there’s still a way to go.
“When I watch him, I enjoy it and hopefully a few others will appreciate it too.”
With Ozil out of contract in the summer, along with Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal fans may have to show more appreciation to help persuade him to stay and sign a new deal.
Gundogan added: “He’s a very good guy, great to have as a team-mate. I’m not sure what all the people are saying, but criticism is part of our game and we need to accept it and be able to handle that. If I know someone who can do that, then it’s him.
“I know him and he’s always focusing on his own performances and doesn’t care what people are saying. That’s a really good attribute and he will keep going. He won’t stop – and just play.”
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With Chelsea currently fourth and enduring a stuttering defence of their title, United will be looking for a result that will see them keep pace with Manchester City, who are five points clear at the top.
Here, Press Association Sport’s Will Dennis looks back at five classic encounters between the two sides.
One of the biggest winning margins in an FA Cup final, United thrashed Chelsea to secure Sir Alex Ferguson his first league and cup double in Manchester. Gavin Peacock struck the crossbar with a long-range volley, but that was as good as it got for the Blues on the day as United took over in the second half at Wembley. Two identical Eric Cantona penalties and a Mark Hughes goal gave United a 3-0 lead in the space of 10 minutes, before Brian McClair got a fourth late on as United claimed their eighth FA Cup.
A game featuring brilliant goals and a stunning second-half Chelsea comeback also saw United’s unbeaten home run extend to 32 matches. The game’s best goal was its first with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink volleying a stunner into the top corner from the edge of the box. Paul Scholes replied and Teddy Sheringham and David Beckham then scored within two minutes of each other but Tore Andre Flo got one back for Chelsea to make it 3-2 at half-time. Flo completed Chelsea’s comeback in the second half.
The game which secured Chelsea’s second Premier League title under Mourinho. William Gallas gave Chelsea an early lead against their closest challengers, then Joe Cole produced a mesmerising piece of skill to beat Rio Ferdinand and Mikael Silvestre before firing past Edwin van der Sar. Ricardo Carvalho got the third goal to spark the celebrations. It was not all good news – for England fans especially. Wayne Rooney broke his metatarsal bone following a challenge from Paulo Ferreira just weeks before the World Cup in Germany.
In one of the Premier League’s most memorable games, Chelsea rushed into a 3-0 lead early in the second half only to leave the game with just a point, following three Manchester United goals in 25 minutes. An own goal from Jonny Evans gave Chelsea the lead in the first half with Juan Mata and David Luiz adding two more just after half-time. Two Rooney penalties made Chelsea worry, before Javier Hernandez headed in the equaliser six minutes from time to complete United’s comeback.
United raced into a 2-0 lead inside 12 minutes through an own goal from Luiz and a goal from Robin van Persie. Chelsea pressed throughout the remainder of the first half with David De Gea at his best to deny Fernando Torres. Eventually Mata got one back for the Blues with a free-kick just on the edge of the box, with Ramires bringing Chelsea level early in the second half. The game then turned on two contentious red cards, given to Branislav Ivanovic and Torres. It was not the end of the controversy, however, as United got their lead back through Hernandez, who tapped in from close range while in an offside position.