In 2018, Manchester City did a double. Then 2019 brought a treble. Now 2020 carries the possibility of a double treble. In one respect, anyway.
City will not repeat last year’s historic haul when they became the first team ever to do a clean sweep of English football’s major honours by claiming the Premier League, the FA Cup and the League Cup. For weeks before football stopped, Pep Guardiola had admitted Liverpool would win the title. They could do so within a few days of the restart.
But while, according to one simulation of the season, City have a 99.5 percent chance of finishing second, they have clinched the season's sole silverware so far, even if their third straight League Cup now feels as though it occurred in another era.
The Wembley gate of 82,145, when Aston Villa were beaten, will remain the largest in England for quite some time.
Now City are free to pursue glory on two further fronts. This could yet be a different unprecedented treble: of FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League.
City’s extraordinary record in domestic knockout competitions must make them favourites in the FA Cup. They are unbeaten in 20 Cup ties – a second-leg League Cup semi-final loss to Manchester United was rendered irrelevant by the first-leg win – and have only lost one in three years, the shock defeat with 10 men to League One Wigan.
Their chances of retaining the trophy may be boosted by the absence of spectators. A visit to St James’ Park, a bogey ground in the last two seasons, could be rendered easier when it is empty. Newcastle’s first FA Cup quarter-final for 14 years will be a less atmospheric affair. And if each of the other all-Premier League ties contains at least one blue-chip team, the meeting of Leicester and Chelsea means either the team third or fourth in the top flight will go out.
Liverpool and Tottenham are already out. More pertinently, they have exited the Champions League. Last season’s two finalists have been eliminated. For City, the most relevant element is that these are the two teams to have knocked them out in the last two seasons, years when they were arguably the best side in Europe.
Now they boast a 2-1 first-leg lead in the last 16 from beating Real Madrid in the Bernabeu. The suspended Sergio Ramos will miss the second leg while City should have Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane fit again. They ought to progress.
That two of the confirmed quarter-finalists, in RB Leipzig and Atalanta, are underdogs, albeit talented, attack-minded ones, offers a potential path further, depending on the draw.
Bayern Munich’s form in 2020 suggests they merit the billing of favourites. City, along with Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid and, should they advance, Juventus and Barcelona, would belong in the next group.
For Guardiola, a Champions League-winning manager with Barcelona in 2009 and 2011, conquering Europe again would be another personal treble. Guardiola had a hat-trick in his maiden year in major management, winning the Champions League, La Liga and the Copa del Rey.
That group of trophies, with the domestic league and main Cup, represents the definitive treble and only eight European teams have done it: Celtic in 1967, Ajax in 1972, PSV Eindhoven in 1988, Manchester United in 1999, Inter Milan in 2010, Bayern in 2012 and Barcelona in both 2009 and 2015.
United fans have dismissed Liverpool’s 2001 treble of FA Cup, League Cup and Uefa Cup as a “plastic treble”. It is harder to level that accusation when any combination of trophies includes the Champions League. For City, their possible Cup treble would rank as another unique feat.