Pep Guardiola: Why success is only round the corner

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City looks on during the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park on January 15, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City looks on during the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park on January 15, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) /

After their 4-0 humbling to Everton last Sunday Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are under the microscope again. Fret not though, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

You’ve got to admire how unwaveringly tenacious Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is, at times. I mean, OK, if you won 14 trophies in your first 4 years of management, at the highest level, you’d probably feel a bit funny changing your methods too. Regardless, the man is completely unassailable and set in his ways. The tiki taka will continue until morale improves and he absolutely refuses to blame his players for poor performances as much as he refuses to wear jeans that aren’t skinny.

Like I said though, with Pep, it works. He’s widely regarded as among the best coaches in football by other managers, ex-players, current players and even the media who would normally be remiss to attach any such title to a gaffer at the Etihad. But that’s Pep. It was his birthday today and how did he spend it? On the training ground preparing for the looming spectre of a red-hot Spurs at home on Saturday. That’s Pep to a T.

Yet all is not so rosy in Camp Guardiola. A humiliating 4-0 defeat away to Everton sent his side catapulting out of the top 4 into fifth place and looking very exposed at the same time. Unfamiliar territory for Pep who isn’t used to not-winning and certainly not by such a horrific margin. Statistically, the game was lost by City’s inability to convert the plethora of chances handed to them in the first half and Everton’s 4 shots, 4 goals success. All that doesn’t matter though, it was a bad result for the Blues and suddenly a top 4 finish no longer looks so assured.

Regardless, there’s a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. It may be hard to see, but it’s there and Pep has spoken of it from even when Manchester City were on their 10 match win streak earlier in the season. Things weren’t right yet, Pep said. The losses were coming, he insisted. But don’t worry too much, just give him time to get things right, he requested. I’d say it’s pretty obvious he’s going to be getting as much time, and as many resources, as he feels necessary to right the ship.

Ultimately too, that should come as no surprise. Pep’s style of football, that ingrained in the Barcelona tiki-taka system taught rigidly to the young stars in La Masia, requires a certain period of time to adapt to. Indeed, it’s more than just high pressing, it’s a style of thought, zonal awareness, triangle passing and movement and absolute positional discipline. For any players it takes considerable time to adapt to, Javier Mascherano claimed it took him two years, but all the more so one must imagine this to be a difficult task for City’s aging superstars.

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Look at the facts: Of the outfield players who fell to Everton, 5 of the 10 were playing when City won the League against QPR in the 2012 season. That would have been 6 of the 10 if Vincent Kompany was fully fit. There isn’t another team in the upper echelons of the league with as many long-time players as City and I struggle to think of any that were around in 2012 and still command a regular first team place. United’s Michael Carrick? That’s about it honestly.

To compound these matters, City found themselves relying heavily on Pablo Zabaletta and Yaya Toure to shore up the defensive midfield position. Both old, both not natural defensive midfielders, both high in heart but low in skill, it’s a serious problem for Pep. But what else is he to do? Ilkay Gundogan is injured, Fernando was injured, Fernandinho out for his bi-weekly suspension and there’s Yaya and Zabaletta. Or how about the much maligned Alex Kolarov? Or Bacary Sagna? So many players in their final year of their hefty contract, Pep has no choice but to rely on them.

And there’s the rub. Whether or not you want to believe Guardiola can change things, change is coming regardless. This City squad, not much different from Roberto Mancini’s City squad, is being led out to pasture and due for a massive overhaul and refresh. The difference? Younger players less tainted with poor tactical and zonal awareness, such as that which set in during the Manuel Pellegrini era, and more able to adapt to Pep’s attack-minded style of play.

Next: Pep Guardiola resorting to mind games

We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from Manchester City, notably against Barcelona, United and Arsenal this season, but that should be only a foretaste of what’s to come. I, and clearly City’s ownership, believe that Pep will right the ship and honestly, there’s no one else better for the task. Success is another of his constants.