Pep Guardiola went six matches without a victory for the first time in his career. It started to become a concern for Manchester City, as their form dipped after starting the season with ten straight wins.
Saturday, Manchester City beat West Brom 4-0, so it appears the worst of it is over.
It was always going to take time for Pep to implement his system in a league where they play a whole different kind of football from Spain (and Germany). Yet, given his past records and a tremendous start to the season, some even assumed Manchester City were going to run away with the title.
City did look great in their first ten games. The 4-1 win at cold and windy Stoke, an exceptional first 45 minutes at Old Trafford, and the complete performance in 4-0 beatdown over Borussia Monchengladbach are just some of the games where Pep had the Citizens flying.
However, that night at Celtic Park changed everything. City and Pep, who were on a 10-game winning streak, were surprisingly denied a win by a much weaker Celtic side. What’s worse is they allowed three goals against a mediocre offense, and showed the world just how vulnerable they are defensively.
Four days later, they were handed their first loss of the season by Tottenham Hotspur. They were totally outplayed in every aspect of the match and the offense that had been scoring a ton of goals was completely shut down.
This was followed by another draw at home to Everton. This time around, it wasn’t Pep’s tactics that failed to work, it was the players. They completely dominated Ronald Koeman’s side, so much so that Koeman himself admitted that Manchester City were the best team he’s ever faced. But the players failed to convert their chances, including two penalty misses, and the defense again allowed Everton to score in their first chance of the match.
The players again let him down when Pep went back to his hometown to face his former club. Fernandinho shockingly slipped in a vital moment that led to an easy goal for Lionel Messi. Claudio Bravo came out of the box to clear the ball only to pass it straight at Luis Suarez and then tried to save it with his hands and ended up getting sent off, leaving his team with only 10 players.
If those errors weren’t costly enough, Ilkay Gundogan’s intended back pass to John Stones went to Suarez instead and he crossed it for Messi to have an easy tap in. The game ended a humiliating 4-0.
Pep changed things up in order to bounce back. He came out with a back three against Southampton and tried a 3-4-3 formation to get a much needed win. Again his players let him down when Stones’ pass to Vincent Kompany instead went to Nathan Redmond and he made City pay with an opening goal. City did equalize and again dominated the rest of the game but failed to get a winning goal.
The five-game winless streak was a joint worst record in Pep’s career, as the only other time it happened was back in 2008/09 season when Pep was a manager of a top flight club for the first time. It was also the year where he and his Barcelona team won a record six titles.
But Wednesday’s EFL Cup loss to city rivals United meant a new record winless streak for Guardiola. Although he didn’t field his best team, City’s lack of ideas going forward was evident and zero shots on goal meant Pep had his work cut out for him in the training ground.
It was never going to be easy, and Pep knows that better than everyone. Since day one, he openly admitted that it was going to take a lot of time to make Manchester City play his way.
When asked if he was willing to abandon his philosophies to get results during a press conference, he said he’d rather “go home” than change his principles and tactics:
“I’m not going to change. First, it’s going to happen that [if] it’s not going well in the future, next season isn’t going well in that way, I will go home. My mistake is my mistake. My decision was [to drop] Sergio Agüero. We lost 4-0. The guilty? I’m guilty. [If] we win in Barcelona, I’m a genius. After the 10 wins [people said] we are going to win four titles. Remember that?”
That's similar to the message he gave in his pre-Southampton press conference:
"You need the process to improve. I came here for three years. In three years in Barcelona and my three years in Bayern Munich, it was much better than my first three months here.
To become a good journalist, you need time. You’d have to write many, many, many reports and things to become better.
So it’s similar in my case because what worked in Barcelona and Munich is not working here because the players are completely different. I need time to know.”
And he’s not wrong at all. It has mostly been the individual mistakes that are costing City points, not his tactics. Even so, they are still top of the league in Premier League and have the chance to get out of the group in Champions League.
It is still way too early to judge whether Pep is good enough to survive in England or if his tactics can work over there. The man is in the process of trying to build a team of his own and needs to get rid of many unneeded players who can’t fit his system.
Plus, exciting signings like Gabriel Jesus and Marlos Moreno haven’t even joined the team yet. Leroy Sane and Kelechi Iheanacho are slowly maturing into more complete and reliable players. Meanwhile young academy talents such as Aleix Garcia and Pablo Maffeo seem to be promising for the future.
It hasn’t even been four months since Pep took over the club. He is no wizard and therefore it is unrealistic to expect a big change in that time, period.
Like he said, he is there for three years. Every change has an awkward transitional period. It will take time, but once the team starts getting comfortable in his system, not even the sky will be the limit for them.