When I started writing this post it was in the immediate aftermath of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City picking up where they had left off before the international break and ripping Everton apart with a performance that was as impressive and as scintillating as we have seen on numerous occasions this season. My original thoughts were focused on praising both manager and squad and wondering just how far their development and evolution would take them, then they went to Anfield on Wednesday night.
Spending the evening indulging in one of my other passions in life, attendance at a Thrash Metal gig, meant that I didn’t see the game against Liverpool but from every account that I have read Jurgen Klopp’s men blitzed City in a first half that saw them score three goals and pretty much settle the tie with just over half an hour on the clock.
Klopp now stands apart from the rest of the managerial elite having emerged victorious in seven out of his thirteen meetings with Guardiola; this season his team has been the only one to topple City in the Premier League. The question is therefore whether it is simply one of those strange football quirks that the charismatic German holds an inexplicable hoodoo over his Catalan counterpart or whether it points to some genuine weakness in Guardiola’s philosophy and approach?
To simply suggest that Manchester City aren’t as good as we thought they were is to forget the way they have dominated the League from start to finish this season. Over the course of the thirty-one league games they have played so far they have dropped just nine points.
Beyond the pure results, they have played with a swagger and stylish approach that has evoked memories of Guardiola’s magnificent Barcelona team. It is inevitable that they will be crowned Champions, if not tomorrow when they ironically host cross-city rivals Manchester United, then in the very near future. It would seem a fair bet that they may even break two esteemed Premier League records in the process: the highest points total (Chelsea with 95 in 2004/05) and the most goals scored (Chelsea with 103 in 2009/10); yet to be considered a truly great side requires more than simply romping to a league title.
City’s rationale for their pursuit and subsequent recruitment of Guardiola was that he was the man that could establish them amongst the elite of European and by definition World football. While City should be rightly lauded for their achievements this season, if the sole return from two seasons under Guardiola and eye-watering investment in the squad is the League Cup and the Premier League title can Guardiola really be judged as being so superior to previous title-winning managers Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini?
Post-Barcelona, Guardiola has been eliminated from the Champions League at the semi-final stage in each of his three seasons with Bayern, in the last-sixteen last season and barring the most phenomenal of comebacks in the quarter final this season; hardly the form of the man chosen to establish the Manchester City as a true European superpower. Would it be too cynical to suggest that his success in the competition at Barcelona was as much to do with the players at his disposal (as discussed here a few weeks back – https://football-nerd.org/2018/03/09/football-nerd-weekly-ramblings-is-pep-guardiola-as-great-as-we-all-think/), as with his own managerial talent?
The truly great teams of football history have achieved above and beyond simply winning the title: Liverpool’s four European Cup wins in seven years in the seventies and eighties, Manchester United’s treble winners of 1999 and Arsenal’s Invincibles the most recent examples from this country, not to mention Guardiola’s own Barcelona winning fourteen of the nineteen competitions they entered under his stewardship.
It is inarguable that this season’s vintage of Manchester City are a brilliant football team and merit high regard and appreciation, it just feels that for now they aren’t quite yet at the level that they aspire to be. Sustained dominance at home and success in Europe are required over the next few seasons if they are truly to achieve their lofty ambitions.