Man City really could win the Premier League unbeaten, as only Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal and Spurs are their remaining serious away tests.
City started December on 14 matches, with the season still feeling young and with much yet to play for. Now, in what feels like a blink of an eye later, they have played 22 games and have only 16 left.
Guardiola’s beautiful squad has seen off all-comers so far, winning all but two of their league games. Suddenly they are genuinely veering towards seeing this season out with no defeats.
Football is not an exact science and sometimes the most surprising challenges can catch you out, but City face few significant tests where they have a realistic chance of losing. And other than one telling spell, across the end of March and beginning of April, those tests are spaced out evenly.
City’s biggest remaining away examinations are Liverpool this Sunday, 14 January, Arsenal on Sunday 25 February (one or both could yet be playing in the Carabao Cup Final that day), Everton on Saturday 31 March and Tottenham on Saturday 14 April.
Each of these hurdles poses the threat of City being caught cold, outscored or out of sorts, sufficient to fall short by the final whistle. Liverpool this Sunday are the first up, to threaten City with a 1-0 or 2-1 that they just can’t escape.
You have to factor in home challenges too and the visits of Chelsea on Saturday 3 March and Manchester United on Saturday 7 April will definitely endanger City’s unbeaten run, if still intact by then.
But these six big tests apart, City’s other ten matches look perfectly winnable on the face of it. After Spurs away, only their visit to West Ham on 28 April might trouble them.
Arsenal’s Invincibles of 2003-04 pulled off their miraculous unbeaten title season when few thought it was possible. Many neutrals didn’t take the possibility seriously until there were about a dozen games left.
This season, City have been talked up for going unbeaten since early in the campaign. City have so far withstood the pressure to emulate the Invincibles, but their risk of defeat could rise depending how early they land the title.
They might lose sharpness once they win the league. Just a small drop in focus could see a draw become a defeat, especially if City are still competing for the FA Cup, Champions League or both, after March.
City appear to face only one particularly testing sequence and it could yet be the one that floors them: Everton away, then United at home, followed by Tottenham away. Come through that by the middle of April and the unbeaten title win is well and truly on.
If City do emerge from that sequence still intact, then the question becomes less if they match Arsenal’s Invincibles, but more by how much they beat the Gunners’ record of 26 wins and 12 draws. City currently sit on 20 wins and 2 draws.