Guardi­ola strug­gles to tackle City slump

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Pep Guardi­ola faces one of the big­gest chal­lenges of his glit­ter­ing man­age­rial ca­reer as the Manch­ester City boss tries to stop his side’s sur­pris­ing slump. As Guardi­ola paced the touch­line dur­ing Satur­day’s chas­ten­ing 4-2 de­feat at Le­ices­ter, the ex­as­per­ated Spa­niard’s mes­sage to his play­ers ap­peared to fall on deaf ears as the hosts ran rings around his be­wil­dered team. It was a shock­ing sight for City fans who had ex­pected Guardi­ola to bring the swag­ger­ing style that won him plau­dits and prizes in equal mea­sure dur­ing his spells at Barcelona and Bay­ern Mu­nich.

Less than three months ago it was easy to imag­ine Guardi­ola would soon be mak­ing room for more medals in his packed tro­phy cabi­net as free-scor­ing City reeled off 10 suc­ces­sive wins in all com­pe­ti­tions. Yet that blis­ter­ing start has proved some­thing of a false dawn for Guardi­ola, whose ar­rival from Bay­ern in pre­sea­son for his first ex­pe­ri­ence of English foot­ball was her­alded as the start of an­other dom­i­nant pe­riod for the se­rial sil­ver­ware col­lec­tor.

Hav­ing won three Span­ish league ti­tles and two Cham­pi­ons League crowns with Barca and then led Bay­ern to three Bun­desliga tri­umphs, few were will­ing to bet against Guardi­ola con­quer­ing the Pre­mier League in sim­i­lar fash­ion. Any doubters won­der­ing how the 45-year-old would cope with hav­ing to re­build an age­ing and un­der­achiev­ing City squad in a league far stronger from top to bot­tom than those he dom­i­nated in Spain and Ger­many were widely dis­missed by his ad­vo­cates. But there are growing signs that Guardi­ola isn’t go­ing to find his City ex­per­i­ment all plain sail­ing.

The first cracks ap­peared in a 3-3 draw against a pas­sion­ate but painfully lim­ited Celtic in the Cham­pi­ons League and those de­fen­sive flaws were laid bare by Tot­ten­ham a few days later as Guardi­ola suf­fered his first City de­feat. Guardi­ola’s re­sponse has been un­ex­pect­edly flus­tered. He has con­stantly tin­kered with his team line-up, mak­ing an in­cred­i­ble 46 changes in City’s first 14 league games - 12 more than any other man­ager in the top flight this sea­son.

All the al­ter­ations have left City badly lack­ing con­ti­nu­ity, chem­istry and co­her­ence, with the re­sult that they fall apart all too soon once events con­spire against them. Kevin De Bruyne, the bril­liant Bel­gian play­maker, has been used as a cen­tral mid­fielder, at­tack­ing mid­fielder, winger and a striker as Guardi­ola searches for his best role. In de­fense, cen­ter-backs John Stones and Ni­co­las Ota­mendi have looked baf­fled by what Guardi­ola asks of them and, while that doesn’t re­flect well on the play­ers, it is also a man­ager’s job to ex­tract max­i­mum per­for­mance from the tools at his dis­posal.

Against Le­ices­ter, he went with a three-man de­fense com­prised of Stones and two full-backs in Bacary Sagna and Alek­san­dar Ko­larov. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the makeshift line-up was bru­tally ex­posed by the pace and di­rect run­ning of Le­ices­ter striker Jamie Vardy, who feasted on City’s con­fu­sion to end his goal drought with a hat­trick. City have kept just two clean sheets in 15 league games, yet Guardi­ola gave a cu­ri­ous re­sponse when asked if his play­ers needed to work on tack­ling af­ter be­ing beaten to the punch time and again by Le­ices­ter.

“It’s typ­i­cal here in Eng­land when they talk a lot about the tack­les. I’m not a coach for the tack­les. So I don’t train the tack­les. What I want is to try to play good, score goals, ar­rive more,” Guardi­ola said. “It’s an­other as­pect of foot­ball, but we’re not go­ing to win or lose be­cause of the tack­les.” Guardi­ola’s com­mit­ment to his purist prin­ci­ples is com­mend­able, but on the ev­i­dence of the last few weeks he must adapt to the un­for­giv­ing Pre­mier League quickly to quash a growing cri­sis of con­fi­dence. — AFP

Pep Guardi­ola

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