There were good teams and great teams over the years, but all of them lost at least once in league play. In fact, English soccer went through the entire 20th century without another invincible team in the top division.
Then in 2003-4, the term Invincibles returned to the headlines when Arsenal, with striker Thierry Henry pouring in 30 goals, matched Preston’s feat. And it did so playing 38 league games, rather than Preston’s 22.
On the other hand, Arsenal couldn’t match Preston’s league-cup double. It was knocked out in the semifinals of its two domestic Cups and in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. (City has lost this season, in a Champions League match to Shakhtar Donetsk, although it came after the team had clinched advancement to the knockout stages. City is unbeaten so far in the domestic cups.)
Arsenal’s 2003-4 team had 12 draws, making its record far from perfect; indeed, Chelsea surpassed Arsenal’s point total each of the next two seasons. But those Chelsea teams sustained losses in the league, so while statistically they stack up better than Arsenal’s champions, no one ever calls them Invincible.
The achievement is not unique to England. Celtic did it just last season in Scotland, and added both domestic cups. A.C. Milan failed to lose in Serie A in 1991-92, a season in which it surrendered only 21 goals in 34 games with a lockbox defense featuring Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta.
But in the English top flight, there are still just the two Invincibles. For City to join them this season, it must negotiate a schedule that includes games far beyond Spurs’ visit on Saturday. In the new year, it still has home games against Chelsea and Manchester United, and trips to Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs. And it must not lose focus even as it balances those fixtures with games in its chase for a bigger Continental goal: victory in the UEFA Champions League.
After five games this season, bookmakers were already setting a line on an undefeated season for City: typically about 40-1. This week, that line had fallen to more like 6-1.
Coach Pep Guardiola has tried to cold-water the chance at an undefeated season.
“We are not going to break it,” he told reporters recently, though he quickly added, “To stay unbeaten in the Premier League is something fantastic.”
But that was in early November. And as the wins have continued to mount — 15 in a row after Wednesday’s 4-0 rout of Swansea City — and as the perfect season inches closer, Guardiola and Manchester City will not be able to avoid thinking about their chance at immortality, and invincibility.