The next most-used player is Manuel Akanji

Man City win Premier League for third season running; Cityzens on course for treble with Champions League final against Inter Milan scheduled for June 10 and FA Cup final against Man Utd on June 3; City’s style change, standout stars and ageing squad analysed In terms of minutes played, goalkeeper Ederson has started all but one of City’s league games this term and clocked a team-topping 3,060 minutes to date, followed by Rodri (2,818), Erling Haaland (2,670) and Kevin De Bruyne (2,356). The next most-used player is Manuel Akanji, which underlines the shrewd summer investment, and arguably mitigates the £50m splashed on Kalvin Phillips – who has registered only 105 league minutes so far. Jack Grealish celebrates after putting Manchester City 4-1 in front against Liverpool Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish, Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake have also been regular starters this term – with Silva being deployed in numerous roles, Grealish finally coming to the fore in a City shirt and Ake arguably producing his best campaign since the £41m switch from Bournemouth in 2020. The chart below shows how Guardiola has managed his squad over the season, with Rico Lewis stepping up to the plate during Joao Cancelo’s departure and Julian Alvarez enjoying a spike in game time after winning the World Cup with Argentina. Phil Foden started the season as a regular fixture in the side but injuries have hampered the England forward’s berths this term, while Kyle Walker, Riyadh Mahrez and John Stones have enjoyed sustained periods of game time – but centre-back Aymeric Laporte has clocked merely 825 minutes. City started the season in customary fashion, winning their opening two games against West Ham and Bournemouth by an aggregate 6-0 scoreline and proceeded to remain undefeated until a 2-1 defeat at Anfield in mid-October. That result saw surprise league-leaders Arsenal carve a four-point lead atop the table – while Spurs drew level with City on points and Chelsea occupied fourth spot – two challengers who suffered severe drops in form during the remainder of the campaign. You can tap play on the interactive graphic below to see how the Premier League table has changed during the course of the season. Guardiola’s men stumbled again one month later – this time, against Brentford – before drawing 1-1 with Everton on New Year’s Eve and losing the Manchester derby two weeks later. While City reached their lowest ebb at the turn of the year, the Gunners were riding high as their title tilt gained traction – but the two sides drew level in mid-February when Arsenal stuttered and City gained momentum. The chart below plots reveals City’s five-game average for points per game and reveals that momentum building from midway through the season. Meanwhile, the chart below suggests a lack of goals caused the initial dip in form – despite Haaland’s record-breaking exploits in front of goal. A 3-1 win over their title challengers in mid-February proved pivotal and Guardiola’s men proceeded to record 11 league wins on the bounce after a shock 1-1 draw at the City Ground, while Arsenal handed City the advantage with three straight draws against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton. All reasonable doubts of Arsenal dethroning City were extinguished when the champions humbled their rivals at the Etihad in late April, cruising to an emphatic 4-1 win. So, what was behind City’s transformation from January this year? Significantly, sandwiched between the 1-1 draw with Everton and defeat at Old Trafford was a 1-0 win over Chelsea – when Guardiola deployed a 3-2-4-1 system for the first time – with Cancelo starting on the right wing. Cancelo left the club to join Bayern Munich on loan days later, amid rumours of a bust-up with Guardiola – but the fluid, three-at-the-back formation would become Guardiola’s dominant formation and the change appears to be a catalyst in City’s change of fortunes during this calendar year. The experimental system – with midfielders filling in as full-backs, full-backs acting as wingers and centre-backs pushing into midfield – looked shaky at first… but it didn’t take long for Pep’s juggernauts to find their groove. The graphic below shows Manchester City’s average positions before the initial 3-2-4-1 experiment and reveals how Cancelo (LB) was typically lopsided to his right-back counterpart farther up the pitch. The new system helped City’s average positions rebalance in a more compact shape – with protection spanning the rearguard and increased positional fluidity, in and out of possession. Despite the midseason wobble, the stats suggest City have been worthy title winners – topping the division for goals, expected goals and assists. You can use the interactive chart below to see how the team compares with their rivals across a raft of attacking metrics. One theory behind City’s midseason struggles posited the team was struggling to adapt with Haaland in the side. The Norway international would be seen repeatedly darting behind defensive lines without service and register few touches on the ball – despite leading the scoring charts. Incredibly, Haaland average 22 touches per goal. The 22-year-old has made 985 off-the-ball runs in the Premier League this term, only Heung-Min Son and Kai Havertz have made more – but team-mates have only targeted one-third of those runs. The video you are trying to watch cannot be viewed from your current country or location Watch all of Erling Haaland’s Premier League goals for Manchester City so far, including his four hat-tricks at the Etihad However, Haaland contributed to a raft of goals scored in and around the six-yard box – while City also registered more assists via central avenues than in previous campaigns, in addition to their customary cut-backs around wide areas in the opposition box. The graphic below suggests the change in system also boosted City’s threat down the central third, while eliminating the left-channel skew and balancing attacks down both flanks. In terms of the players, Haaland smashed the all-time Premier League record for goals in a season with five games to spare and has netted more than three times more than the next most prolific of his team-mates – converting nine goals more than expected, according to xG. Premier League top scorers Advanced stats explained | xG, xA, sequences and more Meanwhile, the table below highlights how De Bruyne stands in a league of his own for creativity – notching a league-topping 16 assists and creating 97 chances. It’s no coincidence: City’s midseason lull coincided with the Belgian’s dearth of assists. The 32-year-old was benched in the 4-2 win over Spurs and 4-1 victory at Bournemouth – but an explosion of goal involvements since the 4-1 win over Liverpool helped propel City to the title. City dominate the possession statistics once again this season. Advanced data reveals Guardiola’s side also progress farther upfield than any other team during passing sequences, but are also the most patient in build-up play – shifting the ball across lines to carve openings. The Cityzens achieve their customary, sustained possession by pinning opposition teams back and creating a more compact unit in possession. To help achieve this, City have held the highest defensive line in the Premier League this term, with passing sequences typically starting more than 45m from their own goal line. The graphic below shows how City’s passing patterns changed after the turn of the year, with more presence in central areas and fewer players down the left channel – which placed more attacking and defensive responsibilities on Grealish down the left wing. The table below only serves to illustrate De Bruyne’s importance further – firing 333 passes into the opposition box. The next player on that list? Riyad Mahrez, on 132. Kevin De Bruyne celebrates scoring their side’s first goal of the game Rodri is the distribution hub, surpassing even the centre-backs with a team-topping 2,625 successful passes and carrying the ball 3,809m upfield with the ball at his feet – underlining the Spaniard’s critical role. City’s compact, patient and ball-playing style also enables the team to sprint far less. Indeed, only Crystal Palace and West Ham have registered fewer sprints this term – which is a notable contrast in playing style to recent title rivals Liverpool. Rodri’s role to destroy and distribute has also seen him clock a team-topping 362km this term, while Haaland has registered 501 sprints from his relentless efforts to breaks lines and nearly matched Kyle Walker’s top speed of 37.3km/h. How did City remain watertight? City have shipped only 31 goals this term – the fewest in the Premier League. In terms of expected goals against (xGa), City’s ability to nullify threats becomes even clearer with 28 xGa – nine fewer than any other side. Their league-topping share of possession also helps to generate a league-low number of shots faced. In fact, the Cityzens have faced 86 shots fewer than any other team, with title rivals Arsenal next on that list with 336. Additionally, advanced metrics reveal City restrict opponents to league-low numbers for progressing upfield against them, while the high line and immense press also forces opponents to start passing sequences at just 37m from their goal. Rodri’s immense contribution to City’s style of play has been highlighted, in terms of his distribution and physical exertions – but the Spain international has also regained possession in the middle and defensive thirds more than two times as often as any team-mate. In fact, Rodri is also the second-most prolific presser in the final third, too – level with De Bruyne. Grealish has regained possession more times than any other player in this area of the pitch – further evidence of his broader, improved defensive work. Meanwhile, Ederson has provided rock-solid stability between the sticks and even notched his third career assist in the Premier League, with an 80-yard pass teeing up Haaland during the 3-1 win over Brighton in October. Haaland smashed the all-time Premier League goal record after netting his 35th of the season in the 3-0 win over West Ham, surpassing the shared record set by Andrew Cole and Alan Shearer of 34 goals in 1993/94 and 1994/95, respectively – both achieved nearly 30 years ago in 42-game seasons when the league was comprised of 22 teams. The Norway international has certainly hit the ground running at City and also forged a fruitful relationship with De Bruyne, who tops the division with 16 assists – of which, eight have teed up Haaland. Grealish has increased his attacking and defensive output, particularly since returning from the World Cup, while Rodri has excelled at kickstarting attacking sequences and reclaiming possession across the pitch. Meanwhile, Foden and Mahrez have excelled when called upon and helped propel City’s charge on all three fronts: Premier League, Champions League and the FA Cup. Versatile technicians Silva and Gundogan have also been pivotal; again, defensively and offensively – a recurring theme throughout the side, which underlines Guardiola’s demands from his players, in and out of possession. Ruben Dias has emerged as City’s main man in central defence, while Stones has enjoyed his best campaign to date in a City shirt with a new hybrid role seeing him frequently drift into more advanced areas. There could be an argument for Akanji being the bargain signing this season after his inaugural campaign in England saw him perform centre-back and full-back roles faultlessly. Likewise, Ake’s versatility, composure and aerial ability in various roles has boosted City’s fluid style further. Walker has played a key part in snuffing out danger when opponents play over City’s high line, with his pace and defensive abilities nullifying threats more often than not. Failing that, Ederson provides a reassuring last line in his quest for the Golden Glove. Ben Ransom and Adam Bate take a look at Manchester City’s win over Real Madrid which sends them through to the Champions League final. Play Video – The Verdict: Unbelievable performance, astonishing result Ben Ransom and Adam Bate take a look at Manchester City’s win over Real Madrid which sends them through to the Champions League final So, having worked from the firing line to the rearguard, it becomes clear there are few standout stars, but, rather, the team has excelled collectively – retaining their third successive Premier League crown with two trophies still up for grabs, including the elusive Champions League. Play Video – Pep: Last season’s pain was there tonight | ‘This team is so humble’ Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola says his side used the ‘pain’ of last season’s defeat against Real Madrid to produce a dominant win against the same opposition this time around Is the future sky blue? City appear to be on the precipice of greatness with the treble in sight, but there are signs Guardiola’s side could be riding the crest of their wave: only Fulham, West Ham and Tottenham fielded older starting XIs this season. Lewis was the only notable fixture in the side this term under the age of 22. Haaland (22), Foden (22) and Alvarez (23) are the only other regulars under the age of 26. Silva will turn 29 this year, De Bruyne will turn 32 and Walker 33. Gundogan and Mahrez are both 32. The majority of their core stars are all entering twilight years and City will undoubtedly look to refresh their squad this summer. The question is whether the new signings can adjust to Guardiola’s style seamlessly. The truth is, few players in world football could match his current crop of veterans. But, only a fool would doubt whether Guardiola could pull it off.