Pep Guardiola’s body language said it all. Slumped in his seat on pitch side with his jacket pulled up over his mouth as if to cover up the obscenities flowing from it, Guardiola looked like a beaten man as his side was thoroughly thrashed by Everton. The 4-0 loss, City’s heaviest in the Guardiola era was the latest setback in the Spaniard’s master plan. Many expected Pep’s arrival in Manchester to be the start of an unheralded dominance by City of the Premier League and for the first 6 games it looked to be the case. But after a difficult festive period that saw City falter with defeats to Chelsea, Leicester and Liverpool the proverbial wheels have well and truly fallen off the wagon with Pep declaring their title challenge is over. Chelsea’s remarkable 13 match winning run that was only just recently ended by a superb Tottenham performance didn’t help. Liverpool’s continued resurgence under Jurgen Klopp also added to Guardiola’s woes whilst the fact that Mourinho has finally found a winning formula at neighbours United puts another thorn in his side. Which raises the question – what has happened at City?
Did Guardiola’s underestimate or indeed overestimate how good or bad his new side was? Or has the most decorated and sought after coach in the world simply found his limit? If you were to believe to the plethora of ex pros lining up to take a pop at him, insisting that Pep has been found out by the “difficult” Premier League then the latter might be true. But the sensible ones amongst us know that this isn’t the case. More likely is that Guardiola simply put too much trust in the squad he inherited rather than ripping it up and starting again. His current squad has a variety of problems, the most glaring being his aging defence which has slowed down at an alarming rate over the past three seasons. This coupled with their inability to adapt to Guardiola’s high pressing wing back system has led to more than a few calamitous performances at the back. Further to this, a lack of depth upfront and the need for a striker to fit into the system Guardiola wants to play is blatantly obvious. He of course does have one of the worlds best strikers at his disposal in Sergio Aguero but the Argentine is more of a poacher and finisher than a player who will track back and run around like a directed headless chicken which is exactly what Pep wants. Perhaps this is his fault. His inflexibility towards the style of play is creating issues but for a system to work or a strategy to be adopted you have to push it through the hard times. It may be that Pep has simply accepted that this season is about rebuilding and reinforcing his philosophy to the point that it will eventually sink in and click.
Until then Pep has to manage expectations and with it manage the British press who are quick to over analyze every press conference, word or movement by Guardiola in the vain hopes of finding their next juicy titbit. It’s unlikely that the Spanish coach has ever faced a media so intent on scrutinizing every detail of his job (although the Spanish press does have a reputation for occasionally going too far too) but again to be a manager in the Premier League he needs to find a way to cope with this. At the beginning of the season, Pep presented a positive vibe and a self-confidence that has become his trademark over the years. But as the cold weather came in and performances on the field began to dither, the unravelling of Guardiola in front of the camera began. This isn’t to say that he is struggling to cope with it all or as some suggest that he has suddenly become a bad coach overnight, it is merely an indication that he has a lot to think about. Across the city, Mourinho was clear from the start that he needed three transfer windows to fully reshape Manchester United in his image. This bought him time with the press who have since held their attack dogs back. But Guardiola gave no such timeline which in a way has hindered his efforts. The City squad looked on paper solid and able to cope, after all besides a few additions it is almost like for like the squad that won the Premier League in the 2013-2014 season. However the difference between whats on paper and whats in front of you can only be really assessed when you are in the role which is what Guardiola is finding out now. He needs time to rebuild, maybe one or two more transfer windows but eventually he will get it right. Until then, Guardiola must adapt his approach to the press, buy into their need for a story and run with it. That should make his life at City a whole lot easier.