City's manager has enjoyed mixed fortunes during his first season in England
On the 1st February 2016, Pep Guardiola took on the Premier League challenge and signed for Manchester City. Managing German giants Bayern Munich at the time, the enigmatic Spaniard put pen to paper on a three-year deal, which saw him take the reins in Manchester at the beginning of the 2016/17 season. He was replacing Manuel Pellegrini, who incidentally left City in 2016 with the fifth-highest win percentage in Premier League history, as well as having won the both league title and what was then the Capital One Cup in his first season.
Despite the Chilean’s honours, Guardiola’s arrival in the North West sparked serious excitement amongst the City faithful, and rightly so – they now had one of the world’s best coaches at the helm. With two Champions Leagues to his name alongside an abundance of leagues and cups in Spain and Germany, Pep’s first season in the so-called ‘world’s toughest league’ would be watched with vehement interest.
We are now fast approaching the business end of the season, with just a handful of fixtures left to play. It has been a mixed season for City, who find themselves in the top four but out of the FA Cup and Champions League. So, as he approaches the end of his inaugural Premier League season, what are the positives and negatives of Pep’s first term at Manchester City?
Without a doubt, Guardiola has altered City’s ethos on the pitch. Pellegrini’s side scored goals for fun, especially in 2013/14, and were noted for their movement and incision, but Pep has added something more. His possession-based style and aggressive pressing, something that the footballing world has long marvelled at, makes City a team that are unquestionably breathtaking to watch at their best.
Their pace, passing, and fluidity have only been enhanced by the Spaniard’s tactics. The mixture of electricity and playmaking in his attacking roster is enough to strike fear into any opposition; Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, and David Silva are just three of City’s many options going forward. Without the ball they press high, and you get the feeling that the longer Guardiola has with this squad, and the more players he adds to it, the more polished their expansive style of play will become.
Manchester City’s owners, as expected, gave Guardiola significant funds in order to revamp his squad in the 2016 summer transfer window. Spending upwards of £180 million, Pep’s overhaul included some excellent acquisitions. Ilkay Gundogan was certainly one of these – before his season-ending knee injury, the German midfielder looked right at home in the Premier League.
As well as bringing in talent, Guardiola also succeeded in refreshing an ageing team. In 2015, City had the fourth-oldest squad in the league, with an average age of almost 28. Leroy Sane (21 years old), who has performed very well for such a young man, Gabriel Jesus (20), and John Stones (22) all joined the club in 2016, and highlighted Guardiola’s desire to breathe new life into the blue half of Manchester.
A principle charge that has been levelled against Guardiola’s side throughout the season is that they are too easy to score against. They conceded six goals over two Champions League legs against Monaco, as well as shipping four against both Everton and Leicester earlier on in the campaign. It is perhaps a case of City still becoming accustomed to Pep’s requirements of total football, a style that some may not be completely comfortable with, but at times the team have not looked organised at the back.
In fairness to the Spaniard, he has been struck with a number of key injuries to his defenders. Influential captain Vincent Kompany, mainstay Pablo Zabaleta, and Bacary Sagna have all suffered layoffs, leaving City dangerously short at right back in particular.
Pep saw his side make a blistering start to the Premier League season, winning six consecutive games and looking as though they would be serious title contenders. But, following a 2-0 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur, City’s form tailed off slightly, and they now find themselves battling to qualify for the Champions League.
A 1-0 loss at Old Trafford saw them exit the EFL Cup back in October, and a disappointing FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal leaves City solely focusing on the tough task of finishing the season in the coveted top four. This, for some, is almost trophy-like, due to the money involved and the importance of Champions League football. Pep’s City thus welcome the upcoming Manchester derby as an opportunity to enhance their chances of a top-four finish.
Aside from the experience and managerial acumen that Guardiola undoubtedly brings to City, the impact of his arrival is not restricted to matters concerning signings, tactics, and performance. The Guardiola ‘brand’ comes with its own unique perks that City can benefit from. His name is synonymous with success and swagger in modern football, and this helps to further elevate the perception of the club in the eyes of the public. It does so also in the minds of world football’s sought-after talents, who will naturally see Pep’s presence as a significant pull factor to playing their football at the Etihad.
1. Guardiola - http://www.espnfc.com/bayern-munich/story/2269090/franz-beckenbauer-pep-guardiola-not-need-long-bayern-munich-contract
2. Gundogan - http://www.espnfc.com/manchester-city/story/2951131/ilkay-gundogan-ready-to-make-a-difference-for-manchester-city
3. Kompany and Guardiola - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2016/10/16/manchester-city-manager-pep-forced-to-fall-back-on-plan-b-as-lea/