As Pep Guardiola surveys the Premier League Table, it will not make happy reading for the Manchester City manager. Way off the pace in the title race, the dream of winning 3 Premier League Championships in a row is pretty much over, and a tricky last 16 tie in the Champions League against 13 times winners Real Madrid awaits in February and March. They have made the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup, in which they are holders, where they will face off against their city rivals United and will begin their defence of the FA Cup (a gimme draw at home to Port Vale) this coming weekend. It is by no means as we stand a disastrous season, but the Spaniard will not be happy at how his team has performed thus far and knows they will have to up their game markedly to achieve what they want especially now league glory has pretty much gone.
TRANSFER WINDOW WOES
One of the biggest issues for City his season has been their defence. They lost talismanic captain Vincent Kompany in the summer and with a strategy right out of the Ed Woodward transfer playbook they decided not to bother replacing him. The club ridiculously claimed that the 80m for Harry Maguire was too much and then promptly spent 60m on a right back that they didn’t really need, one that has hardly played too. When Aymeric Laporte injured his knee badly early in the season they were caught short at the back, yes they were planning on slotting in Fernandinho as cover, but not as a regular week in week out, especially now with John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi struggling with form and / or fitness. Teams have exposed Manchester City time and again in this area throughout the season and in turn this has exposed their poor planning in the transfer market from last summer. For me in trying to act holier than thou, claiming the 80m for the former Leicester, now Manchester United defender, was too high a price for them, they have missed out on the type of ball playing centre back that Pep covets. A big mistake that has pretty much, at least, cost them a chance of winning their domestic title this season, or at least putting in a credible challenge.
Manchester City have most definitely let standards slip this season, yes some things have been out of their control, but the greatest teams find a way and deal with setbacks, even if self-inflicted. Pep has looked increasingly agitated at times in games and especially pre and post match. One thing that is a teller for me is when they start talking utter rubbish about how the team have performed on the pitch. Pep claimed that their performance in the 1-2 home league defeat to Manchester United was a better one than their 0-3 demolition of Arsenal a week later. I watched both games, he is not telling the truth, simple as. He has also said that they will not be buying anybody in January, something I do not believe, because it is clear where their issues are and they most definitely need to get in a top centre back, and if any are available I cannot see any reason why they would not be in for them.
ONE STANDOUT TARGET
The target for the rest of the season for Pep will be to bring in at least one trophy. We have to assume (and he has already admitted this publically) that the league title is beyond them, unless a miracle happens, so in their hands is the chance to win the FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Champions League. Whilst winning at least one domestic trophy is obviously a big achievement, the focus and the priority target will now be lifting the European Cup come the end of the season. They obviously won’t let their league campaign or the other cup competitions go without a fight but, there will be no doubt that players will be rested and kept fresh for the European challenge ahead of domestic skirmishes, if a choice needed to be made.
Even though he does have another year left on his contract, there have already been rumours that this may well be Pep’s final season at Manchester City, maybe fuelled further by his assistant Mikel Arteta leaving to take the manager post at Arsenal. Juventus have been strongly touted, he has never managed in Italy, but a Manchester City supporting friend of mine actually thinks a return to Barcelona could be on the cards. Once I thought about it, the idea makes logical sense. His wife has already moved back there recently from Manchester, something my friend referenced. Furthermore if you take into account that current incumbent Ernesto Valverde, despite winning back to back La Liga titles (and they are top of the tree as we stand this season), but his side have not looked overly convincing and that’s not even mentioning Champions League collapses in their last 2 campaigns. It is thought that a vacancy will arise there whatever happens this season and if Pep achieves European glory with Manchester City he will be able to leave the blue half of Manchester with his head held as high as it possibly could be and a return to his spiritual home and a reunion with Lionel Messi, would be more than appealing. Watch this space.
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