Manchester City’s ambitions of retaining the Premier League title are over. Only a monumental collapse from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool will give Pep Guardiola’s side even a glimmer of hope, with the Citizens languishing in third, six points behind Leicester City.
A defeat in the Manchester derby on Saturday has seen Guardiola’s side fall 14 points behind leaders Liverpool after just 16 games, dropping as many points already this season as they did for the whole of the 2018/19 campaign. Even if Guardiola guided City on an unbeaten run from now until the end of the season, the 14 point gap is just too big for the reigning champions to recover and given the way that Liverpool are playing, the chances of City even coming close to the title are pretty slim.
But why have City fallen off the pace? There’s no doubt that Guardiola’s coaching methods are very intense. Perhaps training sessions are taking their toll on the players. John Stones was substituted in the Manchester derby which adds to an ever-growing list of injuries to defenders. Since the departure of Vincent Kompany, they’re also missing a player with leadership qualities at the back.
Guardiola knew that he needed strength in depth and perhaps Manchester City’s transfer policy in the summer has cost them this season. The Spaniard has already reiterated there won’t be significant funds for new arrivals in January with the arrivals of Rodri from Atletico Madrid and Joao Cancelo from Juventus for substantial fees in the summer.
There’s no doubt that Guardiola’s high intensity can take its toll, which was evident against Manchester United. The Spaniard admitted that his side were more open than he would have liked and perhaps it’s a sign that his players are tiring.
“We are a little bit more open but sometimes that can happen. United, with these four players up front, that is normal but in general, we played a good game,” said Guardiola. “It’s unrealistic to think about catching up, whether it’s six points, seven points, 14 points, two points. We are a fantastic team, we can play so good.”
When City are at their best, they’re great. But when they show their very few weaknesses, opposing managers believe they can get something from the game, just as an under pressure Ole Gunnar Solskjær did at the weekend.
And with new signings at the Etihad unlikely and a growing list of injuries, it’s time for Guardiola to prioritise. The Champions League is something that has eluded the 48-year-old since his time as Barcelona manager, failing to lift the European Cup during his time at Bayern Munich whilst it’s one that Manchester City so desperately desire.
With the Premier League title likely out of reach, planning should go into winning the Champions League. Of course, they’re already planning extensively but they can ill-afford to pick up any further injuries and so they must rest players with the knockout stages coming up.
Unbeaten in the group stages, they’re already guaranteed to top their group with one game remaining whilst Guardiola will be hoping to go further than he has in the last two European campaigns, losing out to Liverpool in 2017/18 and Tottenham Hotspur the following season, both at the quarter-final stage.
Midfielder Rodri also suggested that they have “other good things,” perhaps suggesting that City will focus on the Champions League: “We don’t want to talk about that [the gap], or look at the table. We have lots of other good things this year, other cups, and we still have the Premier League, of course. We have to keep fighting until the end,” said the 23-year-old.
There’s no doubting that Manchester City have progressed as a team under Guardiola, but failure to even reach the semi-final of the Champions League during his tenure will frustrate the Spaniard. Even more so considering that Manuel Pellegrini in 2015/16 took the Citizens to the semi-final, losing out to Real Madrid on a 1-0 aggregate.
During his time at Barcelona the Champions League was his competition, Guardiola has already stated time and again that he’ll always go out to win the Champions League whilst the desire in the Spaniard is clearly still there. Once that passion goes, it’s obvious but the 48-year-old still has plenty of ideas, ambition and drive to guide Manchester City to their first Champions League title.
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