Manager Pep Guardiola has made the extraordinary suggestion that runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City could suffer a stunning collapse — even though they could be confirmed as champions this weekend if results go their way.
City are 13 points clear at the top with six matches to play and could finish the weekend with their third title in seven seasons.
They will take the Premier League crown if they beat Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday and second-placed Manchester United lose against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, although Albion increasingly look condemned to relegation.
However, Guardiola’s side are seeking to recover from three dispiriting defeats in a row, having gone out of the Champions League after losing home and away against Liverpool in the quarter-finals, and sandwiched in between they missed the opportunity to clinch the title when United pulled off a 3-2 win last weekend.
City were two up in the Manchester derby before Paul Pogba inspired a United comeback, scoring twice in the second half.
Guardiola is concerned about the psychological effect of those three losses on his players as they look to secure the trophy, and warned they could still falter.
“Of course it can happen, I assure you,” said Guardiola.
Guardiola cited two examples of high-profile sporting collapses when examining his own team’s prospects -– Real Madrid’s miserable finish to the 2003-04 La Liga season, and Golden State Warriors’ failure to win the NBA finals in 2016.
The Warriors lost 4-3 to the Cleveland Cavaliers despite leading 3-1 with three matches to play, while Madrid managed to finish fourth in La Liga 14 years ago, having held an eight-point lead at the top with 12 matches to play.
“Real Madrid, years ago, lost five games in a row and didn’t win the league. So of course it can happen, no doubts about that,” Guardiola said.
“The players know that. It’s not necessary to say that to them. Of course it can happen –- in football, in sports.
“Two years ago, never before, in the NBA finals one team recovered from 3-1 down. Cavaliers won against Golden State Warriors 4-3. They won three games in a row.”
– Collapse –
City dropped just two points in their first 22 league matches this season until that unbeaten sequence was finally ended by a 4-3 defeat at Liverpool on January 14.
Despite the disappointment of losing to United, City have still only dropped 12 points all season.
In a further sign of City’s domestic domimance this season, Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane and David Silva have all been shortlisted for the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year award.
Guardiola though is remaining cautious.
“The pundits in November, they said it was already done -– it was impossible that City, if they hadn’t lost in six months, it’s impossible for them to drop points,” he said.
“But in one week we lost three games. That happened.”
Real Madrid’s collapse in 2004 is one of the most remarkable in Spanish football history.
A side containing Ronaldo, Raul, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos and David Beckham looked on course for a treble of Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey going into March.
But after being beaten in the Copa del Rey final by Real Zaragoza, they lost seven of their final 10 league matches, and were eliminated from the Champions League in the quarter-finals by Monaco on the away goals rule.
“It’s in our hands. We don’t depend on anyone else, and that’s a good advantage,” said Guardiola.
“So we have six games. We have to win two or win one and draw two games.”