It is almost a year since it was announced that Pep Guardiola was to take over from Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City. The statement was met with universal delight from City fans and a certain amount of jealousy from rival supporters. If there is such a thing as a risk-free appointment in football management, this seemed like the nearest thing to it.
His spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich saw the Spaniard amass 6 league titles, 2 Champions League trophies, 7 domestic cups, 3 UEFA Super Cups and 3 FIFA Club World Cups. All of that was achieved in just 7 seasons.
Expectations were high therefore that he could and would continue his success in the blue half of Manchester, bringing not only silverware but his trademark attacking and easy-on-the-eye tactics. Any concerns that he would find the EPL – notoriously the most competitive league in world football – a struggle, or that either the players or the league itself was not suited to tiki-taka were quickly silenced after a dream start. By winning the first ten matches in charge he also quashed any dissent regarding his treatment of fan favourite Joe Hart, whom he shipped out on loan to Torino, bringing in Claudio Bravo, the Barcelona and Chilean stopper.
Back then, City were looking odds on to win the title for the first time since 2013/14. Fast forward to now however, and you will get considerably better odds of them not only winning the title but of actually finishing in the top 4. So what’s gone wrong?
Prior to this season, Guardiola had lost just 19 of his 239 league games as a manager. He has already lost 5 of his 21 in charge of Manchester City, including the heaviest defeat of his managerial career, the recent 4-0 humiliation by an Everton side that had itself struggled to find any rhythm under a new coach.
The reasons for City’s and Pep’s problems are numerous. The most obvious one is at the back. Teams are finding it far too easy to score against them. In that Everton game, the Toffees had 4 shots on target, all 4 finding the back of the net. The decision to bring in Bravo, hailed as brave and a signal of intent in the summer, is now looking more and more misguided. There is no doubt the Chilean is a good keeper, but he has struggled massively with the English game, and is saving only slightly more than half the shots fired at his goal. After the game at Goodison, that stat looked even worse, having only got his gloves on 8 of the last 21 shots on target. That kind of form does not imbue the back 4 with confidence, a back line already sorely missing Kompany.
But that isn’t the only issue. As well as looking fragile at the back, they have failed to pose much of an attacking threat of late. They have been sluggish and predictable going forward and have been far too easy to defend against. Finally, and Guardiola is not alone in this, but he may have underestimated just how hard a league it is to manage in. In Spain and Germany, when the big teams turn up, they expect, and more often than not see the opposition roll over. That is certainly not the case in the EPL. Every point needs to be scrapped and fought for. There are no easy games, no “gimme 3 points”.
It has been a steep learning curve, but it isn’t all lost. If Guardiola manages to turn it around, a top 4 place is still achievable. They are also of course looking good in the Champions League, a competition he is much more familiar with. This time next year will be the time to judge.