After falling to defeat against Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium last weekend, fans of Pep Guardiola’s side were rightfully questioning why there have been mixed results in recent months.
A loss to Liverpool, a draw to Newcastle and then another loss to the Red Devils shows inconsistency in their Premier League displays, which practically rules them out of the running for the title by being 14 points from first position.
Last season, the Spanish coach managed to retain his Premier League trophy and win two consecutive titles – a very difficult job to achieve. What is even harder, and has only been done by Sir Alex Ferguson since 1992, is to win three on the bounce. At this stage, approaching the halfway point and Christmas period, it looks increasingly unlikely Guardiola’s team are going to match the historic event.
The main and overarching difficulty that the Citizens have had this season is their inability to field their strongest team on a week-to-week basis. With the injury to Aymeric Laporte, and failure to replace Vincent Kompany, Man City’s defence has been psychologically damaged with Guardiola also reluctant to throw in one of the youth players.
Instead, the ex-Bayern Munich manager has opted for Fernandinho or Nicolas Otamendi, the former being a defensive midfielder and the latter incredibly hot-headed that is prone to mistakes. As seen in the matches since Laporte’s absence in late September, City’s defensive record – one in which they built their previous success on – has been taken apart.
There has also been a large amount of concern for England’s John Stones. Once tipped as the Three Lions’ next best thing in central defence, the Yorkshireman has failed to develop his talent into becoming a world-class defender. While he has the natural ability to play out from the back and become an extra man in midfield, the lack of assuredness in a positional sense has cost him in Guardiola’s pecking order.
And so when used by Guardiola without the partnership of Laporte, Stones has looked feeble and disorganised. Without City’s first-choice defensive pairing, the wheels quickly came off and the aura surrounding the team began to dissipate. Such is the greatness of emotion in football, once a team smells blood, their history and success quickly becomes discarded.
Heading into the New Year, Guardiola’s sole focus will be on winning the elusive Champions League. Man City have operated on a large scale in England, currently the number ones in the country, but the hierarchy are desperate to transcend that into Europe and bring home a top-tier continental trophy to the cabinet.
Finishing top of their group by a landslide of seven points, City’s fans will feel far more confident in competing and going all the way in Europe than they are about overturning the deficit to Liverpool. Guardiola, himself, will want to prove the critics wrong who suggest that he can only win the Champions League with Lionel Messi in his team, as he struggled emphatically with a well-stocked Bayern Munich side.
It is unclear whether the Citizens are going to reinforce their backline in the January market, which looks to be a necessity right now if they are to dethrone Liverpool as Champions of Europe. Coming into the Christmas break, Guardiola needs to manage the mentality and start fresh from January 1st.