Manchester City completed an unprecedented domestic treble with a 6-0 win over Watford in Saturday’s FA Cup final.
Pep Guardiola’s side were pushed all the way by Liverpool as they kept hold of a Premier League title they collected at a 100-point canter last time around.
Penalty shoot-out glory against Chelsea ensured the EFL Cup was retained before a relentless drive for the finish line, as Jurgen Klopp’s men seldom gave an inch.
Raheem Sterling scooped the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award, Sergio Aguero again showed an equal thirst for goalscoring in the big moments and Guardiola’s lauded coaching abilities lifted players to new heights once more.
From John Stones’ heart-in-mouth goal-line clearance against Liverpool to Vincent Kompany’s screamer versus Leicester City earlier this month, the heroes and pivotal moments of the treble win have already been poured over.
But which players produced some of the more unsung contributions, without which all the pieces of the treble puzzle would not have fallen into place?
Laporte picks up useful habit at Wolves
In a season unforgiving of any slip-up, City might have been nursing a defeat in just their third Premier League match after Willy Boly – offside and handball claims, be damned – bundled Wolves ahead at a fervent Molineux. Aymeric Laporte has been a tower of elegant defensive strength for Guardiola this term, although his contributions at the other end have also been vital.
He powered in Ilkay Gundogan’s free-kick to earn a 1-1 draw and the Frenchman’s five goals in all competitions came away from home – a breakthrough at Everton in January every bit as important as when he gave City the lead at Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.
— Aymeric Laporte (@Laporte) May 12, 2019
Zinchenko does not dwell on sinning against Saints
A triumph of his own bloody mindedness and Guardiola’s hobby of turning ball-playing midfielders into serviceable full-backs, Oleksandr Zinchenko finished the campaign as City’s first-choice on the left-hand side of defence. Back in late December, the 22-year-old had only started two Premier League matches in his makeshift role, not usually inspiring confidence, when his error allowed Southampton to draw level at St Mary’s through Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
City had entered the match 10 points behind Liverpool after a dismal December run, but Zinchenko responded to the setback to set up Sergio Aguero’s game-sealing goal in a 3-1 win that preceded the seismic 2-1 victory over the Reds at the Etihad Stadium.
“Aleks was the best player on the pitch because after the mistake he never hid, he never said he didn’t want the ball,” Guardiola beamed.
Two months later, Zinchenko was City’s standout performer in the EFL Cup final as he completed eight tackles and made three interceptions – his warming to the defensive nitty-gritty meaning Benjamin Mendy’s injury woes never became the issue they might have been.
Injuries to Kevin De Bruyne meant Bernardo Silva became fundamental, excelling both in central midfield and on the right of attack. “Bernardo and 10 more” became a repeated Guardiola mantra, and the Portugal playmaker impressed just as much through tireless energy levels as with his velvet-footed creativity
Stones, Aguero and Leroy Sane provided the highlight reel moments in the win over Liverpool but three points would probably not have been achieved without Silva covering a scarcely credible 13.7 kilometres. Such lung-bursting efforts were a frequent feature and it is hard to think of a player in world football right now more attuned to Guardiola’s demands than his first name on the teamsheet.
13.7 – Bernardo Silva covered 13.7 kilometres (8.5 miles) against Liverpool, the most by any player in a Premier League game this season. Endurance. pic.twitter.com/QTZewXE1mn
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) 3 January 2019
Ederson and Bernardo steady Welsh wobbles
It should be noted City’s cup draws plotted relative paths of least resistance towards Wembley, although last season’s FA Cup fifth-round loss to Wigan Athletic showed pitfalls can linger anywhere, even for English football’s finely honed elite.
On an enjoyably wretched playing surface at Newport County, Ederson made a stunning save from Tyreeq Bakinson’s back-post header with the game goalless. A 4-1 triumph booked a return to Wales at Swansea City, where one of City’s worst displays of the season saw them deservedly 2-0 down at half-time.
Silva rifled in a brilliant finish to reduce the arrears before Aguero benefited from a penalty ricocheting in off Kristoffer Nordfeldt and a generous offside call. On a day when the treble bid lay in tatters, Guardiola’s men had misplaced their poise but showed their mettle.
— The Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) 16 February 2019
Foden lives out childhood dream
Tottenham were the last team City wanted to see on a balmy April afternoon, just three days on from suffering dramatic Champions League heartache at the hands of Mauricio Pochettino’s side and VAR.
Phil Foden was not part of the side scarred by that setback and Guardiola opted to roll the dice and hand the 18-year-old midfielder a second Premier League start. Within five minutes he had repaid the faith by heading the only goal of a contest of attrition where City rode their luck.
Kompany’s Leicester rocket two weeks later brought a 1-0 win that will be discussed for years to come, where Foden’s greatest deeds for City probably reside. But a possible farewell salvo from a club great would not have been possible without the teenager.
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