It wasn’t meant to be like this. When Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City this summer, it signalled the beginning of a self-proclaimed new era at the Etihad Stadium. Arguably the world’s most revered coach, Pep came with the reputation as being one of the elite of the game, following his incredibly successful spells as manager of both Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
Fast forward ten games into the season and Pep’s reputation is looking suitably justified. The Spaniard led the Citizens to ten victories in his first ten competitive games as boss including a derby day victory at Old Trafford and some pundits are claiming that the title race is already over but since then, City have managed just nine more wins in 22 games, going down in embarrassing heavy defeats against the likes of Everton, Barcelona and Leicester City along the way.
So what’s going wrong for one of the world’s greatest coaches? It’s not even certain that Pep himself knows. The vacant expression that donned his face during the second half of that defeat at Goodison Park was the expression of a man lost on ideas. What can he change to start getting the best out of what is an undoubtedly talented City outfit?
First of all, something needs to be done about the defence. As much as John Stones has been derided for his performances since a £50m switch from Everton in the summer, the youngster has hardly been helped out by the performances of those around him including Nicolas Otamendi and perhaps most important Claudio Bravo. Is Guardiola big enough to admit he made a mistake in bringing the Chilean keeper in and sending England’s number one choice stopper Joe Hart out on loan to Torino, where he has been performing well in Serie A so far this term?
Perhaps Guardiola’s tactics don’t lend themselves too well to this leaky defence. An insistence on playing out from the back and tucking wing-backs into the centre of the field can sometimes leave large expanses of space for clever opposition attackers to exploit. Perhaps if you have the best players in the world available to you as he did at Bayern and Barcelona, this tactical inflexibility isn’t exploited quite so often – but it’s fair to say that this City squad at the moment isn’t on the same level as his previous squads and they’re regularly playing against opposition who have the quality to punish them, which may have happened less regularly in Germany and Spain.
Performances in the media have been at times puzzling from the Spaniard as well. A bizarre exchange following his side’s victory over Burnley in early January showed a cold, stand-offish side we have seen less of that confused supporters as much as anything. We know the British media are supposedly tougher to handle than those on the continent, but was Pep expecting an easy ride even when results started to go against him? Even more confusingly, this interview was given after an admittedly narrow but still important victory.
This may be his first season in the Premier League, but make no mistake this has been an utterly disappointing campaign for Guardiola so far. He’s already equalled his highest amount of defeats in a league campaign, and the 75% win ratio he enjoyed at Bayern Munich is down to just 59% at Manchester City and football tipster, Footballtips.com, said recently “we’ve seen odds slashed over the past month on Pep Guardiola leaving Man City at the end of the season which is a far contrast to the high expectations early in the season when it seemed City were going to be unstoppable”, which makes us question if the challenge of Premiership football is going to be too much for Pep but we do have to keep in mind that this is his first season and still needs time to bring players in which can play to Pep’s tactics effectively and for the current squad to adapt…. time will tell unless Pep throws the hat in before being sacked.
Perhaps the most alarming stat though is the most obvious one – the Citizens sit in fourth place. Just how will Pep attract the best in the world to the Etihad without Champions League football Maybe some blame lies with the club itself here. Has recruitment in the playing staff been as good as it could’ve been prior to Pep’s arrival, given that the club had been chasing him for quite some time? Have they given him too much free reign and as a result, allowed for too much change to occur, disrupting the aspects of the club that were already at an elite level?
Perhaps it’s time for the 46 year old to make some minor alterations to his Manchester City masterplan. Neutrals would no doubt love to see a return to the slick, sexy football played by the Citizens in the opening weeks of the campaign but as other coaches have wised up to their Spanish counterpart, total football is becoming more difficult to achieve. With the squad he has and the talent he has a coach and motivator, a few minor tweaks may be all that’s required to set the wheels back in motion for Pep’s vision of the future at MCFC.
Or maybe, just maybe, football has moved on from possession-based style of player. Current league leaders Chelsea focus more on width and energy than they do possession, whilst Leicester won the title last year with very little care for their possession stats. So which is it – does Pep simply need to make slight adjustments to a near-perfect system or is his now predictable style of play already becoming out of fashion? Only time will tell.