By Peter Hampshire
Taking over from a much-loved figure such as Manuel Pelligrini was perhaps more testing than self-assured Josep Guardiola had first realised as he arrived for his debut season at the Etihad.
Pep seemed to take English football in his stride overseeing ten wins in ten to seemingly set us up for multi-fronted success.
Confidently dispatching teams in Europe and looking comfortable in the Premier League betting with a derby-day win at Old Trafford to boot, it took a trip north of the border to Celtic for Pep to witness frailties that have undermined City having a stellar season.
Two goals from rumoured summer transfer targets Kieran Tierney and Moussa Dembele combined to show the vulnerability of City’s back line and first bring into doubt Joe Hart’s exclusion.
The surprise draw proved a stumbling block as Pep failed to see his side win in six outings, including a 4-0 Champions League thumping at Barcelona.
However, the Catalonia man’s former side also provided redemption on a Tuesday night visit of the La Liga champions. Pep’s summer signing Ilkay Gundogan struck twice to give City a 3-1 win and qualification from the group stage despite a mere two wins.
A third European win followed for City in arguably the most entertaining night in this years’ competition. Youngsters Raheem Sterling, John Stones and Leroy Sane scored as City crashed five past a stunned Malaga. However, the Etihad would not get the opportunity to replicate its 2016 semi-final history, as defensive uncertainty and a failure to be clinical resurfaced against a resurgent Monaco side with City exiting on away goals.
Youth have been trusted in big games by Guardiola this term. While other clubs such as Chelsea continue to stockpile talent in their reserves, Pep is integrating them into the first eleven.
Following an FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal and dour home performance against Manchester United, Aleix Garcia was thrust into the starting line-up at Middlesbrough as Pep looked to crucially cement a top four berth.
Sane has been a shining light out wide this season, while the slow reduction of game time for Nolito perhaps points towards a reliance on youth development next season with Gabriel Jesus also impressing towards the end of the season.
Jesus typifies moves for young precocious talent that haven’t come cheap, but as Pep himself stressed they are only in line with others spending.
Pep Guardiola’s had plenty to say about Antonio Conte’s ‘money’ jibe pic.twitter.com/IMSzCPd7JQ
— Goal (@goal) April 27, 2017
Other youngsters also seem eager to return to City this summer, with Oleksandr Zinchenko very keen to end his loan spell at PSV. Other attacking talent look set to return such as Patrick Roberts, impressing at Celtic, who may compliment their more experience counterparts in games where City have looked to run out of ideas at home this year.
Not all City fans want Guardiola himself to return to the Etihad for pre-season, with some fans venting their frustration at a trophy-less year…
— Alan Brazil (@SportsBreakfast) April 24, 2017
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