Ticker tape was still strewn across the field inside Istanbul’s Ataturk Olimpiyat Stadium and Manchester City fans weren’t done partying in the stands when Pep Guardiola issued an ominous warning to his rivals.
Far from feeling sated after finally transferring Man City’s domestic dominance to Europe by winning the Champions League for the first time last season, the City manager was looking to build on his club’s historic treble of trophies.
“I don’t want after one Champions League to disappear, so work harder next season and be in there.”
Guardiola had completed his ultimate mission by conquering Europe with City, having done so twice as coach of Barcelona, but he made it clear that his ambition was to achieve more.
And there are new boundaries for him to break ahead of the new campaign.
He can become the first manager to win four straight Premier League titles — something even Alex Ferguson could not do during his dominance with Manchester United. Indeed, no team has ever won four straight top-flight titles in the history of English soccer.
Guardiola has already emulated Ferguson by winning the treble of the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup in one season. Now he could better the man widely considered the greatest manager in the history of British soccer.
There is also still uncertainty about the future of Bernardo Silva, and one of Guardiola’s top targets, Declan Rice, joined last season’s runner-up Arsenal instead of City.
So Guardiola is not standing still and if there is any danger of complacency creeping in at City, it won’t come from the manager.
The question is how fierce a challenge City will face from its rivals.
“There is not one or two teams, but a lot of teams who will fight for everything,” Guardiola said. “The challenge is massive for us. How starving are we? How is our desire to defend what we won?”
It is worth remembering that even in a season that saw City win a title treble, for much of the campaign Arsenal led the way in England’s top division.
Mikel Arteta’s team held top spot in the league for 248 days. That is the longest period any team has been at the summit without going on to win the title.
How will Arsenal respond to coming so close to a first league championship since 2004 only to fall at the last?
The signs were certainly positive on Sunday as the London club beat City on penalties to win the Community Shield.
“That moment when you feel, ‘I failed’ or ‘I didn’t achieve what I wanted.’ You still have the hunger and desire to go again. That’s a big motivation,” Arteta said.
Arsenal’s transfer business suggests it is ready to step up its challenge to City.
Arsenal should have more depth as a result of its recruitment, while Rice is regarded one of the top midfield talents in Europe.
It will also have the experience of being involved in an intense title race.
Arteta, however, will have to cope with the added pressure of competing in the Champions League.
Manchester United has also been busy in the market with additions in key areas.
Denmark striker Rasmus Højlund has ended the club’s search for a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo. England midfielder Mason Mount has joined from Chelsea and goalkeeper Andre Onana was signed from Inter Milan.
Manager Erik ten Hag is in his second season at Old Trafford and, after an impressive first campaign saw his team win the League Cup and qualify for the Champions League, he will be expected to mount a title challenge.
But it would still be a major achievement if the Dutchman could go head-to-head with Guardiola to the end of the season, given the gap that has widened between the teams over recent years.
“Any other club (than City) must first compete for the first four positions, then the first two, and then maybe you can see about getting yourself into such a position, but don’t talk about that achievement,” Ten Hag said.
Liverpool, meanwhile, is in the middle of a major overhaul, with a slew of the players who won the title in 2020 and reached three Champions League finals in five seasons having left the club.
Jurgen Klopp’s team went from challenging for an unprecedented quadruple of trophies in 2022 to missing out on the top four in the Premier League last season. Saudi-backed Newcastle exceeded expectations by qualifying for the Champions League in fourth, above Klopp’s Liverpool in fifth.
Getting back into the Champions League will be a priority for the German.
Another team that massively underachieved last season was Chelsea, despite record spending on new signings under owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.
Liverpool and Chelsea in the offseason have had their offseason preparations impacted by Saudi Arabia’s ambitious recruitment drive.
While the attempt to lure leading players from Europe to the lucrative Saudi Pro League has enabled Chelsea to trim its bloated squad, it has seen Liverpool lose key figures like captain Jordan Henderson and fellow midfielder Fabinho.
Mauricio Pochettino has been hired to bring the good times back to Chelsea and a season without any European competition should allow the former Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain manager more time to work on the training field.
Still, it would be a remarkable achievement if he could get Chelsea anywhere near City.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
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