Former Manchester City striker Paul Dickov believes Pep Guardiola’s treble-chasers need to win the Champions League final next month to quieten their critics once and for all. 

"Until we’ve won it, everybody else is going to be pointing fingers at us, saying it’s the one trophy we haven’t won. 

"And I don’t think we’ll ever get a better chance than now. Not because it’s Inter Milan in the final but because of the form we’re in at this stage of the season.

"Twenty-three games unbeaten, we’re just blowing teams away at the minute, and though Inter will be tough, City have to be favourites. 

"Every City fan will be hoping this will be the year just so they can shut everyone up."

The Scot remains a firm favourite at the Etihad Stadium for scoring a crucial, last-gasp goal in a Play-Off final back in 1999 that hauled City out of the third tier, and clearly his two spells at the club have left a lasting impression, with the likeable 50-year-old now an ardent fan himself.

It’s why he bristles at the notion that City’s recent dominance of the Premier League has diminished its competitiveness.   

"I don’t think there has been a lack of competition in the Premier League at all.

"I do think it’s been a strange season, with the World Cup interrupting the momentum of a lot of teams, but you only have to look back six weeks ago to Manchester City being eight points behind, whereas Arsenal were absolutely flying. 

"What you have to do is just give City credit for being such a fantastic team because I genuinely believe the Premier League is the strongest it’s been in a long time.

"The competition is there but Manchester City, at this stage of the season, are like robots. They know what to do and they just churn out win after win after win, and nobody else can keep up with them."

It’s a relentless charge to the finish line that has become a trademark of the Blues under Guardiola but Dickov attributes this as much to the mentality of the players as the Catalan grandmaster.  

"They are so mentally strong. I was at the training ground last week and all the talk among the non-playing staff was about Real Madrid. All the talk on the playing side was focused only on Everton.

"That’s so difficult to do but these players have been here before. They’re serial winners. They know what it takes."

It helps too of course when you have a forward who scores 52 goals and counting across a single campaign.

Erling Haaland Title

From a striker’s perspective, what does Dickov think is the secret behind the Norwegian’s astonishing prolificacy? 

"He has got everything but what separates Erling (Haaland) from such a young age is his mentality.

"He never gets frustrated, he never gets his head down. He must make 12 to 15 runs a game, going in behind, without getting the ball. But he keeps believing he’s going to score, and he keeps making these runs.

"And they’re selfless runs for his team-mates. Look at last night, against Real Madrid. Erling hardly touched the ball but he occupied Militao and Aalaba so well.

"If he’s taking two players of the opposition away there are spaces for Ilkay Gundogan and De Bruyne and Jack Grealish to exploit.

"So as much as people talk about strikers being selfish, I really think he’s an unselfish player. That’s crazy to think when you acknowledge how many goals he’s scored this season."

While Haaland is fast-tracking a path to legendary status, buzzing around him, creating so many of his goals, is a midfielder who continues to mesmerize with his passing and artistry.

"For me De Bruyne is up there with the very, very best.

"There is always going to be that argument about Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard and all these wonderful players, but the scary thing about Kevin De Bruyne is that he just seems to get better and better. Just when you think he’s at his peak.

"Even six or seven years ago, when Pep came in, he was a world class player then and people were thinking that was his level. But he just keeps taking it to another level.

De Bruyne Paul Dickov

"His influence on the pitch is there for all to see and his work-rate is phenomenal. Pep likes a high press and nine times out of ten he sets that press off for the team.

"I don’t think this season, there has been a better player in Europe, if not the world. In terms of the Premier League he is the best."

Though Dickov has evidently enjoyed every minute of watching the Blues mount another title bid this season, it’s an enjoyment compromised by who they have gone up against. 

Aged just 16, he left Livingston, on the east coast of Scotland, to join Arsenal’s youth set-up, soon breaking through into the first-team, though his chances were limited with the club blessed at the time with the likes of Ian Wright and Paul Merson. 

Still holding a good deal for affection for his first club, does Dickov think they’ve been harshly judged for relinquishing their healthy lead late in the season?

"I feel a little bit sorry for Arsenal, with people calling them ‘bottlers’. It was only a couple of years ago City did this exact same thing to Liverpool and everybody then was saying how fantastic Liverpool had done to push City all the way.

"So I’d like to flip it around a bit and say how good it’s been from Arsenal’s point of view, to push one of the best Premier League teams we’ve ever seen all the way.

"If you sat any Arsenal fan down – and possibly even Mikel Arteta – and said they were going to push Manchester City until the last few weeks of the season, while qualifying for the Champions League, they would have snapped your hand off.

"People weren’t even talking about Arsenal getting top four so they’ve had a really, really good season.

"They should get a lot of credit for that and by having such a young squad they’re only going to get better from the experience they’ve gained."

*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*

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