Before February 2016, Chelsea, the defending champions, were languishing in mid table after their worst ever start in the Premier League history saw the sacking of manager, Jose Mourinho. Manchester United were uninspiring at best and toiled under LVG. Manchester City were faring decently as they were in the Capital One Cup Final and had progressed through to the knockout rounds of the Champions League, although their league form was highly inconsistent. At that time, it was obvious that there would be changes in the offices of these giants come summer. So, when Manchester City pipped their rivals to Pep Guardiola early in February itself, it signaled a huge victory and a statement that City would be back to win it all the next year. Fast forward to the end of 2016, and things haven’t gone all that smoothly for the Guardiola and City. Despite an excellent start, they currently sit 10 points behind leaders, Chelsea, with Manchester United and Tottenham breathing down their necks. The key signings of Bravo and Stones have flopped and player-manager relationships with Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero have become strained. So where has it gone wrong for one of Europe’s most successful managers?
Lack of Leaders on the pitch:
At Barcelona, there was no shortage of leaders. Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta and Messi were players who asserted their influence both on and off the ball. At Bayern, he had a World Cup winning captain in Lahm. City do have an excellent leader in Kompany, but he spends more time in the hospital than he does on a pitch. As a result, Guardiola does not have leader on the pitch who ensures that the players play with their heads in the game despite the results. Their best player, Aguero, for all his talent and abilities, is not a great leader and often lets the pressure get the better of him. This was very evident in the 3-1 home loss to Chelsea, where Aguero and Fernandinho both lost their heads and were shown straight reds. This was the second time Aguero would face a ban for violent conduct in the same season. City lack the conviction they possessed when they won the league in 2014 and the absence of a true leader is one of the primary reasons for it.
Manchester City were the highest spending team in the Premier League last summer as they splashed in more than 180 million pounds in the transfer market. Of all the signings, only Nolito has played fairly well while Gundogan was bright before being hit by injuries again. However, the other signings have not been up to the mark. Sane has looked bright at times but has not been able to maintain consistency. Stones is widely regarded as the future of English football, but on current viewing, the future does not look that bright. Too many lapses in concentrations and errors directly leading to goals saw him being dropped out of the first team for a few games. He is very young and still has lots of time to improve his game. But the biggest flop has to be goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Bravo had just won the La Liga and Copa America Centenario with Barcelona and Chile respectively and was brought to replace the error prone Joe Hart but he has not adapted to life in the Premier League. City have kept only 4 clean sheets in the league so far and fans are already calling for Hart’s recall.
Lack of options:
In a physically competitive and mentally draining league like the Premier League, it is very important to have strength in depth. Chelsea have the likes of Willian, Fabregas and Zouma to call in from the bench if required and they have performed exceptionally when called upon. On the other hand, despite spending a lot of money in the summer, City are awfully short on quality replacements. Their only other replacement for Aguero is the young Iheanacho, who has potential, but is too young to step into the big shoes of the Argentine. Kompany is the only other natural Centre Back apart from the Stones and Otamendi and he’s injured most of the time. City are also short in the centre of the park after Gundogan’s injury that Pep Guardiola was forced to bring back Yaya Toure after freezing him out of the squad at the start of the season. As a result, injuries and suspensions have affected the team’s performances heavily.
Well, it’s the English Premier League:
Guardiola is used to being in charge of the top team. At Barcelona, he was in charge of the invincible team that won almost everything. When he was finally beaten by Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in 2012, he decided to take a sabbatical. He then signed up with Bayern, who had already plundered rivals Dortmund of their key players and left them incapable of challenging for the title. That time, he was in charge of the best team in the country by a mile. But it doesn’t always work that way in England. City do possess one of the best squads in England, if not the best. But that is no guarantee of success as proven by Leicester City last year. No team can be beaten “easily” (unless you are Swansea or Hull this year) and each of the top 6 sides are capable of winning the league. This coupled with a hectic fixture schedule is new to Guardiola and he definitely requires time to mold his team into a title winning one. But with Tottenham and Manchester United catching up quickly, he will have to work out a way to ensure Champions League qualification at bare minimum.
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