|Manchester City to complete a domestic treble of Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup||6/4||Paddy Power|
Putting on his best poker face, Pep Guardiola has branded the quadruple as ‘an illusion’, but that’s just manager-speak for telling us to calm down, isn’t it?
Considering his outstanding Manchester City side already has the Carabao Cup in the bag, and that they’re favourites to win all three of the remaining competitions, any reference to illusions or fantasies should be firmly dismissed as bluff on the part of the brilliant Spaniard.
It is definitely ON, and Pep knows it.
For those considering a wager on City filling their cabinet with a spectacular quartet of trophies this summer (available at a tempting 7/1 with Paddy Power) you may want to hold fire until more is known about the injury Fernandinho collected against Chelsea.
If it’s a light muscle strain, don’t panic.
However, should the Brazilian be forced out for 4-6 weeks with a tear, or a severe pull, it may be worth playing it safe with a less ambitious gamble.
To stand any prayer of lifting the UEFA Champions League, the current market leaders Manchester City (3/1) will need their defensive midfield lynchpin fit and firing from the quarter final onwards.
Without his legs, nous, and consistent excellence in that role, propping up Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva (and with no obvious back up in sight) the true elite of continental football will almost certainly expose a defence that’s not impregnable.
It could be this simple; no Fernandinho, no European glory this season.
Updates on the fitness of Aymeric Laporte and John Stones are worth keeping an eye on too, for if one or both are missing for an extended period it will hit the team almost as hard.
Sergio Aguero is the other must-not-lose, if City are to challenge for the Holy Grail.
History tells us that his body usually breaks down if it’s over-worked, and in recent months Guardiola has forced the Argentine to dig deep.
So knowing when to use Gabriel Jesus will be key to City extracting the best from Aguero.
Flipping things around to see the situation with a glass half-full, current form tells us it would now be a surprise if Manchester City do not go on to pull off the domestic clean sweep.
They are currently as short as 6/4 with Paddy Power to land that treble.
The FA Cup is no gimme, but Manchester United must be seen as their only serious rivals.
A one-off tie against Watford or Wolves would test their mettle, but many will view it as a license to print money when they spot that City are odds-against at 11/10 to complete the League Cup/FA Cup double.
If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s improving side crash out at Wolves in the last eight - which is far from beyond the realms of possibility - rest assured the light blues will dive in to a massive odds-on price.
Now is the time to take it.
In Premier League terms it’s clear Liverpool are running lower on the premium fuel they all want at this time of the year; momentum.
Jurgen Klopp’s men are perhaps being perceived unfairly by the bookies, who now make them 15/8 second favourites for the title behind City on 8/15 (888Sport) but the tide has definitely turned.
Unless Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino rediscover top gear quickly – and they looked miles off the pace at Old Trafford on Sunday – then it’s hard not to see Liverpool dropping more points in the run-in.
How many can they afford to squander? Not many.
Guardiola’s all-stars have the odd no-show in them too of course (Newcastle and Palace are two stark reminders) but their remaining fixtures don’t look overly-challenging for a side that’s scored 22 goals in their last eight league outings.
Awkward trips to Brighton, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Burnley may be banana skins, but their fate will be decided in contests against Manchester United away, and Tottenham at home.
Liverpool’s run-in features visits to Goodison Park and St James’ Park, plus home encounters against the likes of Watford, Wolves, Chelsea and Spurs.
Having fancied Liverpool most of the way through, I now confess I expect Manchester City to pip them to the post.
Not because Liverpool are bottling it, but on the basis that City are in better shape with a greater pool of match winners at their disposal.
So, is the quadruple an illusion, as Pep claims it is?
However, if something is going to give for this sensational Manchester City team, I fear it’s the one they crave most, European immortality.
Guardiola’s recent record in the knockout stages doesn’t blow your socks off, and up against the cream of the crop they still look a little too short on defensive nous; even with Fernandinho.
At 7/1 it may be worth a fun tickle for them to bag the lot, but my selection is for Manchester City to secure the League Cup, FA Cup, Premier League treble at 6/4 instead.
It’s a dream scenario that will confirm their status as one of the greatest sides this country has ever seen.
But would they still feel a tad disappointed at missing out on the big one? You bet they will.
The prospect of a quadruple doesn’t come around very often.