Fulfilling expectations is tough regardless of who you are, particularly if you have built a reputation which makes everyone who knows you look up to you. All of us try to fulfil expectations and objectives in our everyday lives, at work, at school and even at home. But, when you do not fulfil expectations, you will disappoint quite a lot of people and worse, face major repercussions.
The reputation of one man and the respect he commands, consequently, need no reminding to football fans and followers all over the world. The person in question here is none other than Pep Guardiola, “expectations” of whom were sky high when he was unveiled as the Manchester City manager at a grand event involving the City fans at the City Football Academy campus in July 2016.
Guardiola, everyone concerned with City thought, was a messiah who will start delivering trophies and play a brand of football which will enchant them.
Sadly for the Blues and their supporters, Guardiola’s first season in charge of the club has been a major disappointment. Manchester City were, on Wednesday, knocked out of the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League by AS Monaco, who won the R-16 second leg by 3-1 and went through on away goals (also 3-1) at City’s expense. And, with the Blues 10 points off (56) the Premier League leaders Chelsea (66), the FA Cup remains the 2013/14 English champions’s only realistic chance of bagging a trophy in Pep Guardiola’s first season at the club.
Fundamentally speaking, the Blues have been good in phases this season, but by no means devastating. They have struggled to click as a unit who defend and attack well. Their defence has been poor in the extreme, while the attack has lacked sharpness on numerous occasions.
And, you can say that Manchester City have chosen the high-pressure, marquee matches in which to be shoddy.
For instance, as an attacking unit, the Blues were quite scintillating to watch against Middlesbrough last weekend, in the FA Cup quarter-final at the Riverside Stadium. Four days later, though, with the stakes a lot higher, the opponent’s attacking force a whole lot more potent and defence considerably solid, City could not raise their game, or even replicate the quality attacking display from the 0-2 win over Aitor Karanka’s men.
In many ways, losses like to Monaco have been a common sight this season for City fans and the current Manchester City manager, who have on not one, not two and not even three, but on several occasions, seen their world class players underperform when they have gone up against players of the same calibre as them and teams who have genuinely challenged them by pressing high up the pitch and carrying a lot more threat going forward.
Although Guardiola, in his defence, can claim that he does not yet have enough players to play the brand of football he is known for and play in a way which will potentially bring better and consistent results, he cannot have a counterargument to the fact that City have been meek, to say the least, in the marquee fixtures.
And, therefore, this season has pretty much been a follow-up to what City endured in Manuel Pellegrini‘s final season in charge: they were great to watch and efficient in gaining results too against the bottom-half teams (Crystal Palace, Watford, Bournemouth, and Sunderland, among others) in the Premier League, but they were ripped to shreds by teams in the upper echelons of the table.
And, also to an extent in the Champions League, Pellegrini’s City lost both their group fixtures to the ever-resilient Juventus, but won the other four (against Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach) to eventually win their group and gain a slightly easier R-16 draw against Dynamo Kiev.
Statistically speaking, Manchester City have garnered just eight points from eight fixtures against the current top seven on the Premier League table: Chelsea (0), Tottenham Hotspur (1), Liverpool (0), Arsenal (3), Manchester United (3), and Everton (1). And in the Champions League, City did not win any of their four away fixtures—against Celtic at Celtic Park, Barcelona at the Camp Nou, Borussia Monchengladbach at Borussia Park, and AS Monaco at Stade Louis II—and their failure to win away from home has, in my opinion, cost them a place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
— Suhith Kumar R.N (@suhithtweets_92) March 16, 2017
Manchester City CEO, Ferran Soriano, in his 2015/16 season’s annual report, had said that Pep Guardiola “brings rich experience, a new level of tactical sophistication and intensity, with a passion and vision that will help move our Club forward”.
Unfortunately and contrary to “expectations”, Guardiola’s first season as Manchester City manager has been another disappointment for the Cityzens. As I said, City have been meek in the marquee Premier League fixtures, have exited the competition they covet the most at the R-16 stage for the third time in four seasons and now only have the FA Cup to play for.
From Guardiola’s perspective, what he will be disappointed with is his inability to bring the best out of the players he currently has at his disposal. Yes, if he had, and in the future has, better players, Guardiola will probably prosper, his philosophy will come to fruition and City will start collecting the major prizes again.
For football managers, however, the greatest satisfaction stems from seeing their players putting their instructions into practice and delivering results. The trophies will automatically follow, but the real delight lies in moulding the players into playing the way you want and being adaptable. Unfortunately for Guardiola, he has failed in this aspect of management as the manager of Manchester City so far.
What will also disappoint Guardiola is his current record against the Premier League and continental heavyweights and in the big matches. During his time managing Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola thrived in the big matches. He almost always found a way to win the marquee fixtures, or at the least, come away with a draw and a point. But another case in point is Pep Guardiola’s continuing struggles away from home in the Champions League and as Manchester City’s manager, Guardiola’s away record in the Champions League has only gotten poorer.
And, let us face it, the current crop of Manchester City players aren’t poor. A lot of them are Premier League winners and have consistently played Champions League football over the last five-six years.
Following their elimination from the Champions League, Manchester City and Pep Guardiola have a set of fixtures in which they can redeem themselves and remind the world about their quality. The Blues face Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday (March 19), a fixture which precedes two trips to London on successive gameweeks in April (April 2 and 6), to face Arsenal and Chelsea.
Although this season does not have much more to look forward to for City supporters, these fixtures still carry a lot of significance. Manchester City are now in a proper top four tussle and to seal their place in next season’s Champions League, Guardiola and his team need good results in the fixtures aforementioned. The major motivational factor for City, going into these fixtures, has to be bettering their record against the teams who are around them on the Premier League table. For Guardiola too, getting good results in the upcoming fixtures is a mandate.
Because so far, Pep Guardiola has been anything but a big-game manager!
What is your observation on Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City this season? Will they finish this season with at least one silverware?