Manchester City can beat own winning record, and they're not done yet
Manchester City will be aiming to break another Premier League record when they travel to Huddersfield on Sunday. Having taken 34 points from their opening 12 matches this season, they have levelled the achievement Roberto Mancini's side managed in 2011-12 -- the previous best-ever start after 12 games.
So far, the only thing that has set Pep Guardiola's City apart from the Italian's title-winning team of six years ago is goal difference. This season, City have conceded just seven times, compared to the 11 goals that beat Joe Hart in that 2011 run. Despite scoring two fewer, Guardiola's team are ahead by the finest of fine margins.
In the 13th match of 2011-12, City drew 1-1 with Liverpool at Anfield. So a win at Huddersfield would give the 2017-18 vintage the record: 37 points compared to 35.
It was that draw at Anfield that sparked a change of impetus for Mancini. Up to that point, his team had been a swashbuckling, all-out attack-minded force, willing to leave three men up when defending corners and daring the opposition to send their centre-backs forward with Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Edin Dzeko waiting to spring a counter-attack on the halfway line.
But after being stung in a tight affair on Merseyside, the Italian became a little more cautious and City began winning more games by the odd goal instead of blowing teams away by scoring four or five every couple of weeks.
Of course Mancini's team only won the title in dramatic fashion on goal difference at the end of the season, so it's premature to talk as if Guardiola's start to the campaign means City will definitely be crowned champions this term. But there are differences -- notably the fact that the 2012 side never held an eight-point lead at any stage and were up against a Manchester United team that, powered by Sir Alex Ferguson's influence, just kept winning, even when playing poorly.
In the end that's likely what made Mancini revert to a more introverted style of play, just to make sure his team got results instead of risking giving up chances in open games. You get the sense that Guardiola -- win, lose or draw on Sunday -- won't compromise on that front and that his style will remain the same for the rest of his time at the club. That's the major difference between this blistering start and the last.
When City won their opening 10 games in all competitions at the beginning of last season, Guardiola was careful not to get too carried away. The first defeat, 2-0 at the hands of Tottenham at White Hart Lane in October 2016, only underlined the problems with the squad that he'd been warning about.
While the team had been playing some good stuff, it was nothing in comparison to the football the fans have enjoyed so far this season -- and it was well below par for what Guardiola wanted, even if it was producing victories in August and September that year.
It's interesting that, as City racked up a record 17th win on the bounce with their 1-0 success over Feyenoord in the Champions League on Tuesday, there were are still some citing last season's downturn in fortunes as an example of how things could go bad for the Catalan this campaign. That's despite City extending the record for an English side's consecutive wins week-on-week.
By this stage of last season, Guardiola was already trailing Antonio Conte's Chelsea and Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham, having been knocked off the top of the table thanks to three 1-1 draws at home to Everton, Southampton and Middlesbrough.
Not to count any chickens this early, but it will be a massive failing on his part if he manages not to win the title from the platform he has built already.
City have been playing so well that many pundits are beginning to ask the question if they can go unbeaten throughout the campaign. That, of course, is a pipe dream and nothing more -- the traditional tough tests at Anfield and the Emirates are to come, grounds where City could seemingly play all night against weakened Liverpool or Arsenal teams and still not win -- but it's a mark of the step up in quality there has been in the last 12 months.
While many were still purring about the football City played this time last year, it's nothing compared to how they've dismantled teams in this current record-breaking run.
The supporters know they've had it good for some time, but it's exciting to think that this team may not even be Guardiola's finished product. If City can better their previous best start after 13 games with more free-flowing attacking football on Sunday, they will be a lot closer to what their manager is demanding.
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney