No crisis for Pep
> What Pep and City are going through is no more than a reality check
IT IS a measure of Pep Guardiola’s messianic status that there were worried brows at the Etihad on Saturday and the first whispers of doubt.
Three games without a win is simply unheard of for the great man, and the ways City found not to beat Everton evoked mention of the unmentionable – a return of Cityitis.
Two missed penalties, 18 shots on target to one, 13 corners to one and 72% possession, and still only a draw could amount to a concerning new outbreak.
Since Sheikh Mansour took over and trophies have been won on a regular basis, it’s a surprise the World Health Organization (WHO) hadn’t declared that cock-ups had been eradicated.
But like other infectious diseases, they can occur again when least expected – even from arguably their two best players.
The Everton game offered a chance to consign the defeat at Spurs and draw at Celtic to the blip basket but with Barcelona next up and a fixture list that only Sod himself could have arranged, it represents a stutter at the very least.
Indeed, its timing belongs to the old “Typical City” days when the club found more and more imaginative ways to avoid victory.
After looking as if they’d have the title won by Christmas, City now face a daunting couple of weeks when any more slips will have the faint-hearts talking of crisis.
In the Champions League, they have a double-header against the best team in the world, an in-form Southampton at home and a Manchester derby away in the League Cup with only West Brom away looking remotely like a respite.
It is not outrageous to suggest that they could go to the Hawthorn’s having gone six games without a win.
Welcome to the Premier League, Pep. Or more precisely, welcome to the combination punches that three concurrent competitions can deliver.
Pep has claimed that Premier League football is no more intense than that of La Liga or the Bundesliga but he is about to find out what Jurgen Klopp meant when he referred to the periodic cramming of matches as “crazy”.
However we look at it, this little spell could represent the biggest challenge of the Catalan’s career. He has already admitted the Everton game may have dented his players’ confidence just when it needed to be sky high.
We all remember the way City lay down at the dazzling feet of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta on the two previous occasions they encountered the maestros from Barcelona, and were only kept in the tie by a certain Joe Hart. Any repeat of that supplication would be the stuff of Pep’s nightmares.
He was hired to replicate Barca at City and seemed well on the way to achieving that with a fulminating start: top recruits, rejuvenation of old lags, a 10-game unbeaten run and his fabled pressing game all suggested the hype about him was justified and quelled the doubters.
But then came a fired-up Celtic, an evening City emerged from unbeaten but badly shaken and, according to the manager, barely able to talk afterwards.
Still suffering, they went down to an impressive Spurs at White Hart Lane. Then Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero chose to telegraph their penalties to Maarten Stekelenberg. Otherwise Saturday could have been five or six-one.
Guardiola will remind his players that they are battering most teams and are far stronger than when they last played Barcelona. Even against Celtic they had the spirit to level three times and nearly snatched it.
They have arguably a deeper squad than the Catalans even if they can’t compare with the stupendous MSN trident up front.
What Messi, Suarez and Neymar will do to a creaking defence is a worry but City can counter with the pace of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane on the flanks.
Guardiola will know his old team’s weaknesses and City can’t miss two penalties again.
His problem is that even though expectations are already high, his new project is still very much a work in progress.
Fans expect him to win all the time because that is how it’s been ever since he took over at the Nou Camp and built probably the best club side of all time. And produced a worthy encore at Bayern.
But the City he took over from Manuel Pellegrini was nowhere near the class of either of his predecessors and although he’s made major strides, they still have a fair distance to go.
That Everton boss Ronald Koeman can say: “They’re the best team I’ve come across in my managerial career,” is testimony to the Pep effect but also to their friendship.
The players are still embracing his methods and adjusting to new roles, and although they already look the best team in the Premier League, they do not quite have the invincibility of multiple trophy winners.
Indeed, they could do with the injection of brilliance promised by Gabriel Jesus, who arrives in January, right now.
Talk of a crisis is ludicrous, but given the knee-jerk traits of keyboard warriors, fickle fans and a voracious press, six winless games would be called one.
Unlike some other managers we could mention, Pep can be assured that he has the full confidence – indeed undying loyalty – of his bosses not to have to worry about his job.
You can’t see him failing in the long-term even if the next couple of weeks keep him awake at night.
City fans and the WHO can relax – what Pep and City are going through is no more than a reality check and when they emerge from it, they will be anything but “typical”.
Everton midfielder Gareth Barry (centre) falls to the ground during a tangle with Manchester City midfielders Kevin De Bruyne (left) and Fernandinho during Saturday’s English Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium. – AFPPIX