Guardiola stubbornness hindering City

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After Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side won their tenth consecutive game at the Liberty Stadium in late September, I remember finally accepting my slice of humble pie. Having been a sceptic of Pep, it was hard not to admire someone coming to the so-called hardest league in the world and created a winning machine that blitzed his start at either Bayern or Barcelona. But since the harum-scarum draw at Celtic, it has all gone wrong for the Spaniard – and I for one am loving it.

After the cagey 2-1 win at home to Burnley in November, Pep had the look of a broken man – he gave a set of prickly and bizarre interviews in which it looked like it was dawning on him just how tough this league really is. The equivalent games in the past would have replicated a training game with his sides rolling out multiple goal victories but here it is simply not like that.  And with his side now sitting fifth, ten points off the leaders and Pep already talking about retirement, this does not look like a marriage that is going to last forever.

Although he has not been helped by injuries nor by some of his key players, I believe most of his problems are self-made. His handling of the Joe Hart situation is so disgraceful it is almost comical. Shipping out a club legend and replacing him with someone so painfully average not only is illogical in footballing terms but is bound to go down terribly in the dressing room, especially with long standing players who were close to the keeper.

Secondly, I believe what Sir Alex Ferguson did so well, and what Antonio Conte is doing so well at Chelsea this year, is getting the best out of the players you have. It sounds so obvious but it is the mark of a great manager, and this is probably what has surprised me most about Guardiola. He has the best attacking talent in the league and yet Aguero is having a poor season to his own very high standards, Silva is a shadow of the influence he was in seasons gone by, and Kevin De Bruyne has tailed off as late.

And, although Guardiola supposedly does not teach tackling, a lesson in defensive awareness would not go amiss. Many attribute City’s defensive issues to poor individuals but his back four in the embarrassing defeat to Everton cost over £80 million, while Conte is churning out clean sheets with Victor Moses at right wing back.

However, in this bizarre Premier League season, a win for a City side ‘in crisis’ would put them level on points with ‘high flying’ Tottenham and therefore, I’d maintain that Guardiola has the potential to turn this around – and he certainly has the players to. But he is going to have to start adapting his philosophy and start coming to terms with just how hard this league really is. I might even suggest he has his own slice of humble pie and considers recalling Joe Hart from Torino. But this seems unlikely; he has the mark of a stubborn man, insistent on making it work his way, and for me his way is not compatible with the Premier League. Pragmatism is a crucial attribute in this tough league and Pep quite simply has not shown it.

Photograph: Thomas Rodenbucher (Flickr)

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