Pep Guardiola experiencing harsh reality of Premier League

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City look dejected on the sidelines during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City look dejected on the sidelines during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) /

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is experiencing the harsh reality of life in the Premier League and is struggling to adapt.

It all started so well for Manchester City and Pep Guardiola. They won 10 matches in a row and were flying high, seemingly untouchable as they laid claim to the top spot in the Premier League. Just a few months later, there is talk of a club in crisis as they “flounder” in fifth place, nine points behind leaders Chelsea FC who have a game in hand.

Aside from the points difference, the walls seem to be closing in on Pep who looked a man defeated when his charges were eviscerated by a clinical Everton side last weekend. Camera shots of the manager showed him staring off in to space while his squad was worked over by the Toffees.

This week and the crucial clash against Tottenham Hotspur, a fixture many circled months ago for its potential title implications for both clubs, came brutally fast for City and Pep. There would be no minnows to use to refocus before a big match but it seemed like the Sky Blues were up to the challenge.

The first half was controlled by City but all that was missing from their dominance were the goals. Those came in the first ten minutes of the second half courtesy of two errors from Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris who failed his sweeper keeper audition for the first goal and then spilled a ball he should have easily saved for the second.

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City were imperious at the Etihad until Dele Alli pulled one back for the visitors and a crucial referee decision changed things once again. Less than a minute before Heung-Min Son’s equalizer, Kyle Walker shoved Raheem Sterling in the back as he was clear on goal but did not go down and nothing was given.

It was an obvious penalty on Walker and even a sending off as he denied Sterling a clear goalscoring opportunity but the referee disagreed. Had the correct decision been made, City likely go up 3-1 and play against ten men for 15 minutes. Instead, Spurs get a point they desperately needed and Pep is left to decry the wasted opportunities.

In his post match comments, Guardiola had the following to say, as quoted by TalkSport:

“It doesn’t matter – it’s the same argument like what happened against Chelsea. We lost because we missed a lot of chances. When that happens, the influence of the referee is higher. When you score a goal, the referee doesn’t matter. But the rules here are the rules so maybe Mike Riley is one day going to explain to me.”

“When it’s a push here (arm) or here (shoulder) but still I don’t understand. But, again, we lost because we miss a lot of chances. When we don’t miss a lot of chances, the referee doesn’t matter. I know you like honest people and Walker was and I think Raheem was. The people that come from other countries, we try to be honest as well.”

What Guardiola is referring to of course is Sterling’s decision not to throw himself to the ground when pushed by Walker and forcing the referee to make a choice, to book Sterling for a dive or send off Walker for the foul. Instead he did neither because Sterling stayed on his feet and the nightmare continued for Guardiola.

This is the harsh reality of the Premier League that perhaps Guardiola did not see coming. Poor refereeing decisions, or even a single one, meaning the difference between a title challenge, a Champions League place, and total failure.

Having managed two clubs that would have relative cakewalks to their domestic league titles, Barcelona only challenged by Real Madrid during his run, and winning the Bundesliga by an average of 13 points during his tenure, Guardiola has never experienced adversity like this. He has always played his way and has never been forced to change or adapt his tactics in order to win.

Guardiola is used to being the favorite and has never experienced being an underdog in a domestic title race. In his seven years as a top-flight manager before taking over Manchester City, Guardiola won six league titles and finished no lower than second. He simply does not know what it is like to have this many other teams gunning for the same prize he is.

This is not to say that he is a poor manager or even overrated as many of his detractors will claim, but the simple fact is that he has always managed the best team in what are usually two-team leagues. With Barcelona he deserves credit for bringing out the best in Lionel Messi and putting together one of the best sides in world football history and with Bayern he should be credited for how dominant his teams were domestically.

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The Premier League is a new challenge for Pep and one he has struggled to cope with thus far. He has the vast resources of Manchester City at his disposal but he is also weighed down with an old squad that he must be given time to clear the dead weight from. No serious title challenge could take place with the defenders he currently has and the Yaya Toure albatross is certainly doing him no favors.

If he survives the season, something that is no longer assured if the papers are to be believed, then this year of trials would be the ultimate learning experience for the former Barcelona star. It is possible that he underestimated the difficulty of managing in the Premier League but he would have another full summer to further build the squad to his liking and clear out the players that failed him in the past.

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The unfortunate reality however is that if Manchester City were to miss out on a Champions League place then he may not be given that chance to implement his vision at the Etihad.