Richard Buxton: City are first-class Citizens in England, but Europe?
City are tops in the EPL, but they must win Champions League to be a Big Club
Pep Guardiola's calmness should unnerve everyone within football - if it hasn't already.
Gone are the days when the Manchester City manager appeared visibly animated on the touchline in attempts to guide his team through the individual steps of games.
As the English Premier League champions-elect continue to swat aside all-comers, Guardiola exudes an air of tranquility which mirrors that silent ruthlessness.
|BORUSSIA M'GLADBACH||MAN CITY|
City 2.0 are on course to rip up the record books again with just one more victory required to equal the 14-game EPL winning streak amassed by Arsenal's "Invincibles" in 2003/04.
Seven further triumphs in all competitions will give them the distinction of eclipsing Brazilian side Coritiba for the game's longest run of consecutive wins, standing for barely a decade at 24.
Conquering the final frontier of the Champions League, however, will remain the truest barometer of just how far City have come under their newly serene Catalan coach.
With some of their fellow big-hitters noticeably on the wane in the knockout stages, City are primed to take full advantage ahead of their own Round of 16 first-leg encounter against Borussia Moenchengladbach in Budapest tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Guardiola's side venture to the scene of Hungary's historic 7-1 demolition of England in 1954 with designs of solidifying their own impressive legacy at the game's elite level.
Spearheaded by the legendary Ferenc Puskas, the "Magical Magyars" redefined football's gold standard during an emphatic four-year unbeaten run on the international stage.
The Citizens are making short work of a similar feat in their trip to the Hungarian capital, with fluid attacking play blending seamlessly with an industrious defensive set-up that has produced 12 clean sheets from a possible 18 in their current winning stretch.
Belatedly tackling the thorny issue of Vincent Kompany's long-term successor has certainly helped, with Ruben Dias' £62 million (S$115.3m) transfer appearing like increasingly small change as he and John Stones strike up a highly cogent pairing.
Guardiola saw first-hand how transformative a defensive signing can be after Liverpool rivalled, and eventually overhauled, his "Centurions" team in the past two seasons.
As Virgil van Dijk soared at Anfield, they struggled to regain the composure and dominance that Kompany routinely offered them through his leadership at the back.
Dias' arrival from Benfica last summer has resolved that skewed dynamic in more ways than one; his partnership with Stones allows the Citizens to play to their core strengths.
The Portugal international brings not only the best out of his partner at the heart of defence but also grants those around him a greater creative licence than previously.
His compatriot Joao Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchencho are now widely considered to be the most proficient attacking full-backs on current form. The domino effect in midfield is similarly positive, with Fernandinho again free to dictate the pace centrally.
In Phil Foden and Ilkay Guendogan, the Brazilian is orbited by City's two most influential playmakers after Kevin de Bruyne. Adding a household name to this already stellar cast with the capture of either Lionel Messi or Erling Haaland feels borderline gluttonous.
Yet accusations that they are still not a "big club" continue to plague the Etihad Stadium's corridors of power, despite an EPL haul of 33 points in the first two months of this year surpassing the cumulative tally of Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.
Finally winning Europe's elite club competition will leave absolutely no room for dispute.