Can Guardiola overcome his biggest challenge yet and get City back to the top?


Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur saw Manchester City register back-to-back games without scoring a goal. In both games, against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup and Spurs in the Premier League, Pep Guardiola’s side attempted 32 shots at goal but failed to convert even one of those.

Scoring goals are one problem for City but there is a sense that a team that broke the 100-point barrier in the Premier League, completed an unprecedented clean sweep of the domestic titles and broke numerous records, are steadily losing their swagger.

Sunday’s defeat was their sixth of the season which meant Liverpool’s lead at the top of the table stretched to an unassailable 22 points. To rub salt in their wounds, Liverpool could arrive at the Etihad Stadium on April 4 as champions if they win all six of their games between now and then.

City’s season has been one of ups and downs. Impressive wins have also been met with poor performances. However, they still possess the best squad in the league on paper. But how did it go wrong for Guardiola, a team that was expected to clinch a third league title in a row? To be fair, they’ve been hit hard by injuries to key players, with Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane both missing for the majority, if not all, of the season so far. Raheem Sterling limped off in Sunday’s game.

Liverpool’s consistency and breathtaking run of form has also been tough to match. The Reds have won 24 of their 25 games this season and given City’s dominance the last two seasons, you wonder why they’ve fallen short on so many occasions this season.

In Sunday’s game, for example, things would’ve been different if Ilkay Gundogan put away the penalty saved by Hugo Lloris. City have missed big chances this season. Last season was different. They created a ton of chances but were ruthless when it mattered. This campaign, however, was perhaps encapsulated in last Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg, when David Silva had a glorious chance to score but instead made a ridiculous decision to pass.

Sterling’s blistering early-season form has melted into thin air, while Bernardo Silva has not replicated his splendid form seen towards the end of last season.

After 25 games last season, they had only scored one more league goal than this time around which is 66 to 65. They are also worse defensively. Compared to this time last season, City had conceded 20 goals, but they’ve shipped 29 after 25 games this campaign. Laporte’s injury and failure to replace Vincent Kompany are central to the defensive frailties. John Stones’ significant loss of form and confidence has also been another bigger issue. Nicolas Otamendi has proven time and time again he can’t be reliable while Fernandinho is not a centre back.

This is Guardiola’s fourth season and all these symptoms points to a team that has run its course under the Spaniard. After this campaign, he will have been at the Etihad for as long as he was in charge at Barcelona and for a year longer than his Bayern Munich reign.

The question that lingers now is will he stay around for the rebuilding job? This will be the biggest challenge in his career. He has never rebuilt a title-winning side like Sir Alex Ferguson.

Tough tests are coming for Guardiola including a huge Round of 16 tie against Real Madrid in the Champions League. Is it far-fetched to think that they can get past Zinedine Zidane’s team which has one of the best defences in Europe and just two losses? Maybe. Can Guardiola resuscitate his side with a run in the Champions League? Time will tell.