With the Premier League season approaching that point of the year when the picture becomes clearer on who are the main title contenders for the crown that season, it sees the pundits preseason favourites in Manchester City going from odd’s on to take the title back in September to now being out of the championship race altogether with three months of the season left to play if you believe Pep Guardiola. When the club announced that the former Barcelona and Bayern coach was coming to the Etihad Stadium last summer, it saw a reaction that generated excitement not only for City fans but also for those associated with Premier League and the television companies especially.
With many Pundits and fans believing that the appointment of Guardiola would basically see Manchester City taking that next step and would be leaving all opposition trailing in their wake, with City steamrollering their rivals and not only dominating in England but also at European level. However things don’t always go to plan and this is a good illustration of when don’t go the way people plan. This is without doubt the first time that the footballing world has saw Pep Guardiola under pressure and struggling to solve the problem.
As things currently stand now the Blues are 13 points behind leaders Chelsea going into their game against West Ham on Wednesday night and have already been dumped out of the League Cup by their bitter-rivals in United earlier in the year, that said though they are still in the Champions League at the moment and have made it to the Fifth-Round of the FA Cup with two straightforward victories over London opposition in both West Ham and Crystal Palace respectively, but in all honesty the FA Cup is the only realistic chance that club have of lifting any silverware this season.
At the start of the season City were off and running and were like a runaway train after recording 10 wins out of their opening 11 games in all competitions, with a thrilling 3-3 draw up in Glasgow against Celtic being their only ‘blip’ on their record at that time, but then started their run of indifferent form ever since. After the huge saga that played out involving Joe Hart and the club at the start of the season, it led to the England number one being loaned out to Italian side Torino in Serie A and at the same time saw the club bringing in Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo to be number for Pep Guardiola side.
After impressive team displays in the opening five games of the season, it then saw Bravo making his debut for City at Old Trafford in the Manchester Derby of all games and was at fault for the goal that his side conceded and was also mightily lucky not to give away a penalty too with a tackle on Wayne Rooney.
As the season has gone on, it has saw the goalkeeper coming under fire for a string of costly errors which has led to the Blues slipping down the table and seeing valuable points dropped with a collection of terrible performances too boot and for someone who was deemed by Guardiola as a ‘World Class keeper’ he has failed to show a glimpse of that tag yet in City colours and looked far from that in any game..
The City boss has always liked his goalkeepers to be able to use their feet and do a bit more than traditional goalkeepers would do in making saves. This was one quality that wanted and drafted in Bravo for that exact reason and so far he has yet to show it. There have been games this season where his ability with his feet have landed him in trouble and watching him is equal to someone wading through treacle in the way he has displayed his skills with his feet and been caught out numerous times by opponents.
Fans have also been critical of the goalie for his refusal to come off his goal line and help his defenders out and has led to him being left in ‘no man’s land’ when he chooses to come out at wrong times and gifts opponents easy goals, noticeably the 4-2 loss to Leicester and then his pitiful display against Everton early on at the turn of the of the year His saving ability is up for debate too as after keeper that City have had over the years, none have ever turned away from being hit by the ball and practically allowed the ball to go past them instead of being brave and being how Schmeichel used to be years back and even Joe Hart dare we say.
If that wasn’t bad enough for the Guardiola to contend with, then he has also saw his side subjected to humiliations at away grounds where you felt they would or should be winning with all due respect to Leicester and Everton. Under Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini, these games were seen as title-winning games and you had to battle, scratch and claw for victories if you wanted to be successful and be championship material.
It isn’t just the goalkeeping situation that needs addressing, it is also his defence too as he has hardly ever kept the same back four together long enough for them to gel and develop an understanding with the keeper or any of the defence at all.
When teams have won the Premier League title down the years their has always been a strong central defensive partnership that has led their respective teams to glory. United had Bruce and Pallister, Vidic and Ferdinand during their time and Chelsea had Terry Carvalho, and Luiz. Arsenal had Adams, Bould, Kolo Toure and Campbell whilst City had Kompany and Lescott for their first title success before Demichelis replaced Lescott as their key centre-back pairing on route to their success.
City have not established nor looked anywhere close to establishing any type of commanding centre-back partnership this season and with the captain Vincent Kompany being plagued by injuries since 2012, the side have look disorganised and leakier than a leak in a leaking house. Another challenge the manager has had to contend with since arriving at the club in the summer, has been dealing with a public spat between him and Yaya Toure’s agent Dimitri Seluk, of which Seluk has accused Pep Guardiola of being an ‘average manager’ and said that ‘anyone could manage Bayern and Barcelona and do the same as what he has done’.
The City boss refused to play the Blues talisman till he apologised to him and his team mates for the comments that were made by his agent on the manager and the club as a whole, which in effect meant that the Ivory Coast star was out of action till mid November and saw the Ivorian coming back with a bang when he scored twice in a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace.
However dropping vital points in games has seen City go from top of the tree to now just hanging in there with the chasing pack for what looks like a battle royal for a Champions League place come the end of season.
Formations, suspensions and poor officiating have all contributed to Pep Guardiola’s frustrating debut season in the Premier League to date. But the Spanish coach has given some very quite bizarre press conferences in recent times too and was quoted as saying in on press conference “perhaps i am not good enough for this job” and would further add about retiring later. If Pep had a head full of hair at the start of the season, then he would most certainly be either white as a ghost or bald as he is now with all the the stresses and strains of what English Football and media can throw at him.
The Blues didn’t make any deals in the January transfer window,. but what they did bring in was the addition of Gabriel Jesus to their club after his spell in Brazil finished and he joined his new club from Palmeiras in Brazil. It will certainly need divine intervention to help City manager getting his side back to playing the way they were at the start of the season and that also made them look like a serious title contender at that time.
With Tottenham and Liverpool being mainstays in the top four for most of this season to date, Arsenal are hovering around the 4th Champions League place and have City’s cross city rivals in United hitting form too with Jose Mourinho’s side looking looking like they may have finally found some cohesion to their squad after some very indifferent results themselves like Pep’s side has.
Of course, things can change very quickly in this game and City could go on to win the FA Cup, Champions League and even go unbeaten all season now and finish second or even win the league come May. Fickleness is word well used in football and perfectly sums up the situation too, with managers being under pressure one minute and the next be deemed a genius. A well coined phrase that was used by former Spurs and England striker Jimmy Greaves sums up it best when he said of football, ‘It’s a funny old game’.