Manchester City began the season reinvigorated under the management of Pep Guardiola, with many pundits expecting the club to win the Premier League crown after an underwhelming challenge in the 2015/16 campaign.
The Citizens had stagnated under the management of Manuel Pellegrini, despite reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League – their furthest progression in the competition. However, in order to advance the club’s fortunes both in Europe and on the domestic front they opted to replace the Chilean with Guardiola.
Following his arrival the Spaniard made sweeping changes at the Etihad Stadium, including telling stalwart keeper Joe Hart that his services would not be required for the upcoming season, replacing the England international with Barcelona stopper Claudio Bravo.
City began the campaign in imperious form, winning their opening five matches, including the first Manchester derby with a dominant performance over their rivals at Old Trafford. The 2-1 scoreline flattered Manchester United, although Guardiola was delighted with the three points anyway.
However, the first defeat of the campaign was just around the corner as City themselves were outplayed by Tottenham at White Hart Lane. That loss may have shattered the aura around Guardiola’s impregnable image as since then his side have won only seven out of their last 16 matches in the Premier League, knocking them off the pace for the Premier League title.
The Citizens are back in the latest football betting odds at 20/1 to win the top-flight crown, suggesting that the Spaniard and his men have a huge task at hand to overhaul Chelsea and the rest of the chasing pack.
Guardiola has usually been a placid character during his tenures with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, avoiding the dramas seen on the touchline that have been present in Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger’s time in the game. However, as his side have struggled for their best form he has become animated on the sidelines and tetchy during his post-match interviews.
City have also been ill-tempered on the pitch, with Sergio Aguero serving two suspensions for violent conduct this term. Meanwhile, Fernandinho was dismissed twice in the space of four Premier League matches and had another red card in his side’s Champions League draw against Borussia Monchengladbach.
Surprisingly, the loss of Fernandinho affected the club more than Aguero as without the Brazilian protecting City’s vulnerable backline they conceded four goals to Leicester City and again at Everton.
Guardiola’s men have the worst defensive record in the top six, conceding 28 goals thus far in the campaign. The decision to send Hart on loan to Torino has backfired as Bravo has been at fault for several goals this term. His performances have even unnerved Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones at the back, although both players have had problems with their distribution anyway.
The majority of City’s problems have emanated from the back due to Guardiola’s insistence that they play the ball out of their own box rather than kicking it long. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, his players have not risen to the task, which has seen him cut a frustrated figure on the touchline.
The tension of being in a fierce battle for the Premier League title may have unnerved the 46-year-old, as he dominated the Bundesliga during his tenure with Bayern, while he enjoyed the same success in La Liga with Barcelona.
He’s a man not used to losing, but he may have to relax in order to get the best out of his players. Guardiola’s suggestion that his team are out of the title race may take the pressure of the City squad a little bit, but there still remains a large task at hand for the Spaniard to get them firing on all cylinders once again.