Pep Guardiola is no villain, but it is easy to imagine him laughing like an evil genius every time he has perused the back pages over the last few days.
His Premier League ‘rivals’ are cracking up in ways that are every headline writer’s dream. Arsene Wenger’s bizarre and crass reference to suicide after Arsenal hung on to draw with Chelsea. The spat between Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho that has evolved from mentions of clownery to dementia, and most recently allusions to match-fixing.
Guardiola has said nary a word to stir the pot. All he has needed to do is sit back watch his rivals self-destruct, perhaps while stroking an evil cat, 15 points above everyone else.
Manchester City have been so good, so untouchable this season, that characters as highly strung as Wenger, Conte and Mourinho have inevitably borne out their frustrations in the media. The Premier League title is so far out of reach that it may as well already be under lock and key at the Etihad.
And though Conte, Mourinho and Wenger – especially Wenger – have all experienced disappointment before, they may very well decide that life living in Pep’s empire is not worth the hassle. Guardiola’s dominance could end the Premier League careers of all three by the summer.
With or without Guardiola’s influence, their futures were hardly certain. Wenger will be halfway through a two-year contract, which was one last attempt at recapturing the glory days. Conte has serious misgivings about Chelsea’s transfer policy – he resigned from Juventus for the same reason – and it was already assumed that he will leave this year. As for Mourinho, his flirtatious comments about Paris Saint-Germain read like someone who is formulating a plausible back-up plan when his time with Manchester United ends in flames. It could be argued that he is already smouldering.
If they are all swaying over a decision, City are the force of nature that will push through the winds of change at each club.
But if supporters are sick of Mourinho’s antics, Wenger’s moaning and Conte’s lack of commitment, then they should nevertheless be careful what, or whom, they wish for.
City already have the golden goose in Guardiola in their clutches and are desperate to tie him down well beyond his existing three-year contract, that comes to an end in the summer of 2019.
In contrast, if United, Chelsea and Arsenal all find themselves without a manager at the same time then they will be picking over relative scraps.
Diego Simeone? Hardly a guarantee to leave Atletico Madrid after extending his contract. Carlo Ancelotti? Solid, but uninspiring, and underwhelming with Bayern Munich. Thomas Tuchel? Did not set the world alight with Borussia Dortmund before falling out with the board.
In fact, if all three clubs had a blank cheque book and a genie’s magic lamp they would make plays for two managers intent on invading Pep’s planet – Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino.
Their respective projects at Liverpool and Tottenham are just about backed by enough money and room for growth to keep them both interested in the long haul. Neither are flawless but there is a vision at both clubs that United, Chelsea and Arsenal lack, through muddled transfer policy or uncertainty over who will last at the top.
Mourinho, Conte and Wenger, to a greater or lesser extent, are all proven winners. But the spectre of Pep may spook all of them out of the Premier League in six months’ time, and if their clubs continue to coast, Klopp and Pochettino could ghost into place as City’s most realistic rivals.
Ross Barkley has signed for Chelsea from Everton, the Premier League champions have announced.
The 24-year-old’s contract at Goodison Park was due to expire at the end of the season after he rejected a new deal with the Toffees.
A move to Chelsea on transfer deadline day in August did not materialise, but Barkley has now moved to Stamford Bridge for a cut-price fee, reported to be in the region of £15million.
Twenty-four-year-old Barkley has signed a five-and-a-half-year contract, which runs until 2023.
Here, we look at how some Chelsea fans reacted to the news on Twitter.
Pep Guardiola said on Friday that Manchester City would need more than 30 senior players on top form to stand any chance of winning an unprecedented quadruple.
The City manager has said repeatedly that he believes there is no chance of his side winning the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup this season.
City are 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League, in the last 16 of the Champions League and the semi-finals of the League Cup, while they host Burnley in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday.
Yet even though they have been English football’s outstanding side over the first half of the season, their manager believes that maintaining such form will be impossible.
“Maybe that question can be asked in March or April if we are still in all four competitions,” he said. “After that, we are going to talk.
“But tomorrow is the third round of the FA Cup. So thinking about four competitions, it’s an illusion, it’s not realistic, I would say.
“We will need 32 players to play really well for four competitions. That is not going to happen in my squad.”
Premier League and Champions League rules limit clubs to 25 senior players in their squads, although that number can be bulked out with young players aged 21 and under.
Guardiola has suggested he will try to keep City on course for four trophies, despite admitting the difficulty of the task.
“The priority is the next game, the priority is tomorrow. Train well, eat well, rest well, wake up well, and play at three in the afternoon.
“Our intention now is don’t drop any competitions, don’t drop any games. We are going to try not to drop any competitions.”
Guardiola said he was relaxed about the possibility of making signings during this month’s transfer window.
The club are widely expected to make a new offer for Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez, while Real Sociedad centre-back Inigo Martinez is another potential target.
“All the clubs I work with try to do the best, and sometimes it’s possible, sometimes not, but there’s not a big problem,” said the City boss.
“I said many times that we are working now for this month but also for the future, for the next seasons. What happens, happens, and I will work with the players I have.”
Guardiola said he believes City already do everything they can for their fans, after captain Vincent Kompany called on Premier League clubs to drop ticket prices.
Kompany, who has just completed a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Manchester, said lower prices would lead to a better atmosphere at stadiums, which would benefit the Premier League.
“I am not the CEO,” said Guardiola. “But I am sure, because I know the CEO, that this club are always thinking about the best for our fans. There is no doubt about that.
“I spoke with the CEO about many other issues, to know the players, to know the culture, and everything they do is for the benefit of the fans because we play for them.”