Champions have delivered consistently but every empire starts to decline eventually and leaders will test strength in reserve

“Being there again” is Pep Guardiola’s mantra and it describes how his Manchester City players recharge relentlessly and return to compete for the big prizes during the manager’s era-defining tenure.

Guardiola’s praise is not for the physical talents of a glittering squad but the ability to retain mental hunger despite serial success. Last year’s treble triumph offered the greatest test yet: could Kevin De Bruyne, Ederson, Kyle Walker, RĂºben Dias, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Erling Haaland et al roll up once more for pre-season training, gaze ahead at another nine-month slog with a target on their backs as Europe’s finest side, and continue to be there again?

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