Only once in his 14-year coaching career has Pep Guardiola gone a season without winning a title. That was in his first season in English football when he had the relief of taking on a new team at Manchester City, in a new country, new surroundings and going his own way.
Still, the Spaniard admitted in April 2017: “No cutlery – it’s not going to be a good season.”
The rest is history: three Premier League titles, four League Cups and one FA Cup, in addition to the 14 trophies he won with Barcelona and the seven he collected with Bayern Munich. Only Alex Ferguson has won more silverware. And Guardiola is only 51 – although he certainly won’t last as long as Ferguson.
In addition, Guardiola has left his mark on English football. He has set the standard that other managers led by Jurgen Klopp have tried to achieve. And yet, if City don’t beat Aston Villa today and lose the Premier League title to Liverpool then it will be a barren season for them and their manager, almost unthinkable given the quality they possess.
Given the rivalry, it will be even more unthinkable that handing the title to Liverpool and Klopp would also give them that third, highly unlikely third trophy en route to that unprecedented quadruple, which is a feat that could only ever be matched, never beaten.
There will be a whirlpool of emotions at City – and at Guardiola – if Liverpool were to win the Champions League against Real Madrid in Paris next Saturday, given how painfully close they came to beating the Spanish giants in the semi-finals.
The wounds of that second-leg defeat at the Bernabeu are still open, even if Guardiola’s anger was confined to the first game as he believed City had been careless at home when they had the chance to put the tie out of Real’s reach and with 4-3 win .
Have City been sloppy in the Premier League? After building a 14-point lead over Liverpool at one stage despite playing two games more – leading Guardiola to label it a ‘fake’ advantage – it appeared to be the case.
But City was adamant; as does Liverpool. These two teams set crazy standards. City have lost just 11 points from a possible 51 since the turn of the year and yet Liverpool have managed to close the gap. City ended the season with an incredible goal difference of plus 72 and 91 points – good enough to win the league in 23 of the 29 Premier League seasons (one of which would have failed was a 42-game campaign in 1993-’94 when Manchester United finished with 92 points) and still finish second.
It would leave them open to the accusation, as Guardiola himself explained, that “it’s not going to be a good season”, especially after the club spent a British record £100m to sign Jack Grealish last summer, as the obvious Priority was a striker and the manager was disappointed not to get Harry Kane. They fixed that with the signing of Erling Haaland, but that’s for next season.
A bit like Real, Klopp’s side just won’t go away. Liverpool just don’t know when they’re beaten, even though technically City are a superior side.
It has left Guardiola on a tightrope. Under him, City look like one of the best sides to ever grace English football, but what does that mean in a trophy-less season?
Even for someone with Guardiola’s cast-iron faith, that would be a dent in confidence and, interestingly, he is yet to sign a new contract despite Klopp extending his with Liverpool. Guardiola has a year left after this campaign and has indicated he wants to stay and City are keen for him to do so, but it’s not a given.
Not winning the Champions League during his time at City would hurt – just as it hurt him at Bayern – and a fruitless season would make that worse. It will likely make him more determined to stay, but maybe he could justify why he’s falling short.
Of course, there should be some context: it would be a huge shock if City Villa didn’t bat. Although City and Guardiola could be feared there could be just another twist with the Liverpool connections of Steven Gerrard leading their opponents. City’s determination to bounce back after falling 2-0 at West Ham United last weekend shows their determination, although Riyad Mahrez’s late missed penalty will also be regretted.
If he had scored, the title would have been City’s title – given their far better goal difference – and we wouldn’t go into a last-day decision like we did in 2019.
Then City traveled to Brighton, Liverpool at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers as they do again this weekend.
Sadio Mané gave Liverpool the lead and Brighton also took the lead. In short, City slipped, despite in truth always looking like they were going to get the result they wanted, and equalized just 83 seconds later before winning 4-1 and passing Liverpool by a point.
They will desperately hope history will repeat itself as City also won the league title at the Etihad on the final day 10 years ago.
Guardiola, despite his deep admiration for Liverpool, will be frustrated that it has even come this far for a side that have scored four goals or more in a third of their league games.
If Manchester City fail today, that frustration will definitely lead to criticism. It shows how fine the edges are.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/premier-league/premier-league-preview-despite-their-brilliance-questions-will-be-asked-if-man-city-dont-deliver-the-title-41675032.html Premier League preview: Despite their brilliance, questions will be asked if Man City fail to deliver the title