Manchester City’s penultimate game of 2017 serves as their last but one in another respect.
Claim three points at Newcastle on Wednesday and they could equal the record run in Europe’s top five leagues at Crystal Palace on Sunday.
City have won 17 successive league matches. Bayern Munich have been out in front with 19.
Bayern’s manager at that point was Pep Guardiola, just as when Barcelona set a Primera Liga record of 16, Guardiola was at the helm at the Nou Camp.
“It is not that I am going to sleep thinking about if I am going to break a record,” said Guardiola.
It is not just ennui because of the familiarity of breaking records. It is in part because his motivations are different.
Guardiola’s motivation has never been purely statistical; while he has devised a blueprint that has brought extreme amounts of possession and remarkable sequences of victories, his mind is more artistic than statistical.
For him, it is partly about the aesthetical, partly about the intellectual challenge of pursuing perfection. A driven man’s motivations are different.
Guardiola planned to spend Christmas with his laptop, studying footage of Newcastle.
“I am going to try to discover what they do and keep our pace and intensity with and without the ball,” he pledged. At a time of the year when the schedule is unrelenting, so is Guardiola in his demands.
“Focus on what they have to do on the pitch, defensively, offensively, individually, as a group,” he explained. “That is the only way to be focused on what we have to do.”
His focus is a constant. In Rafa Benitez, he will encounter another intense strategist, even if divisions – Barcelona and Real Madrid, purist and pragmatic – may outnumber similarities.
A common denominator is a belief in squad rotation.
One Spaniard has added options with Jonjo Shelvey back from a ban and Mikel Merino and Isaac Hayden also available as midfield alternatives to Mohamed Diame and Henri Saivet, who scored in Saturday’s victory at West Ham United, which ended a run of nine games that produced a solitary point.
The other could also make changes. “Of course we are going to rotate in that period,” Guardiola said. “Everybody has played in the past and everyone is going to play in the future.”
He cited Bernardo Silva, Yaya Toure, Ilkay Gundogan and Danilo as those who are likely to get starts over the Christmas period.
The three midfielders may be waiting on the fitness of Kevin de Bruyne, who was a doubt for Saturday’s 4-0 win over Bournemouth. “He was vomiting,” Guardiola said. “He lost two or three kilos, the doctor told me.”
Two decisions beckon in other positions. Once involves Eliaquim Mangala, given Vincent Kompany’s injury problems.
His captain returned in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Bournemouth but who probably cannot play every game.
Another involves Sergio Aguero, scorer of two goals against Bournemouth and seven in his last four games against Newcastle and who Guardiola conceded was “upset” at being omitted at times.
“Gabriel [Jesus] didn't play [on Saturday],” Guardiola noted. “He is the best fighter in the high pressing I have ever seen in my life.”
If that pressing game is required at St James’ Park, the Brazilian is the likelier striker to start.
Aguero is a regular scourge of Newcastle, Toure another. Then again, most players in a City shirt have tended to have that effect on the men in black and white. City are unbeaten in 13 league meetings, winning 12.
It all suggests they will head to Selhurst Park on Sunday on course to equal a record. Even if Guardiola is not especially interested in it.