No cri­sis for Pep

> What Pep and City are go­ing through is no more than a re­al­ity check

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

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

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