Why Manchester City’s record-breaking season might still feel like failure

Pep Guardiola was at a loss to influence the Champions League match against Liverpool. (AFP)
Updated 06 April 2018
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Why Manchester City’s record-breaking season might still feel like failure

LONDON: Could it be happening again? That’s the question Pep Guardiola is likely to be asking himself, and familiarity can only enhance his frustration.
His Manchester City side could wrap up the league title against Manchester United on Saturday and yet there is a serious danger of the season ending with a sense of anti-climax.
Just as in each of his three campaigns in charge of Bayern Munich, Guardiola has won the league early,. Victory has come too early for there to any great explosion of emotion when it is confirmed. City need to beat United on Saturday to wrap up the title with six games remaining, but even if they don’t, the title will come.
When it does, there will be a nod of satisfaction, debates as to whether City, who are likely to break both points and goalscoring records, are the greatest Premier League champions of all time (quite possibly). Barring something extraordinary in the second leg on Tuesday, there will be a yawning sense of disappointment about what happened at Anfield on Wednesday.
Admission to the highest level of the pantheon demands European success, particularly in an era when a handful of super-clubs have much greater resources than everybody else, with the result that the Champions League has belonged to four countries over the past 14 years.
Since he left Barcelona, Guardiola has kept on failing in the latter stages of the Champions League: Three semifinal defeats with Bayern, a last-16 exit with Manchester City a year ago and now a strong chance of defeat in the quarter-final. Worse, the same pattern keeps being repeated: Three goals conceded in 18 minutes against Real Madrid in 2014, three goals conceded in 17 minutes against Barcelona in 2015, two goals conceded in eight minutes against Monaco last season and three conceded in 21 minutes on Wednesday.
Again and again, Guardiola sides find themselves reeling, the composure that usually characterises them in possession lost as a defense that is better at passing the ball than actually defending is exposed. This is the flaw that keeps undermining him. His side may have the best defensive record in the Premier League this season with just 21 goals conceded in 31 games, but that is a mark of how good they are in possession, how intimidated opponents are, rather than how good they are at the nuts and bolts of defending.
It is a realization Jurgen Klopp came to years ago. As he pointed out after Liverpool’s 4-3 victory over City in January, to sit back and hope they do not convert any of the chances they will inevitably convert is to hope to win the lottery. Far better to take the risk and attack, and to try to expose their defensive vulnerability.
But it is too simple to suggest that everybody should follow the Klopp model. Not everybody has the players to attack, and very few, if any, other teams are quite so quick in transition.
Nonetheless, Liverpool’s success should give other teams hope, and if doubts are beginning to assail Guardiola — as his selection of Ilkay Gundogan over Raheem Sterling on Wednesday in an effort to assert greater control suggests — it is now Jose Mourinho’s job to try to multiply them by upsetting City on Saturday.
United do not have Liverpool’s pace or cohesion, but as long balls to Romelu Lukaku, with Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford feeding on his knockdowns, undid Liverpool, so they may undo City. That would spoil the City party — and push Guardiola into further self-interrogation.


Pep Guardiola urges title calm after Manchester City edge closer after beating sorry United

Updated 25 April 2019
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Pep Guardiola urges title calm after Manchester City edge closer after beating sorry United

  • Guardiola’s City have 89 points after 35 games
  • Title rivals Liverpool are just one point behind

MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola said both Manchester City and Liverpool deserve to win the Premier League title after his side brushed aside Manchester United 2-0 on Wednesday to top the table again.
Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane struck for the visitors in 12 second-half minutes at Old Trafford to inflict a seventh defeat in nine games on United, who remain three points adrift of the top four.
Guardiola’s City have 89 points after 35 games, with Liverpool a point behind. Both sides have just three games remaining.
“I understand the pressure we have and obviously here at Old Trafford with Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard running behind,” the City boss told Sky Sports. “I told them we needed to play to win, it doesn’t matter if we concede.
“Now we go to Burnley and we know how tough it will be. It’s important to be calm. We are still not champions with three gaurgesmes left — it’s incredible with the points we have and Liverpool have.
“I told the players don’t read tomorrow, don’t watch the television, just rest and sleep a lot and go in there against Burnley.”
“Both teams deserve the title,” he added. “But it can be just one. The team that is going to lose can’t have regrets because they have given everything. Normally with this kind of victory you can it enjoy it the most but we have to be calm.”