Football365’s early loser: Pep Guardiola

Date published: Thursday 20th October 2016 6:54

There was no acrimony or hostility, no arguments, no solicitors. Pep Guardiola did not dress up as Batman in a last-gasp attempt to gain sole custody of young Lionel, Andres and Sergio. In terms of splits, the Spaniard’s separation from Barcelona in 2012 was amicable and harmonious at worst.

Four years later, he returned. He took the long journey to his former Nou Camp home with his new partner, and was greeted with open arms by his old Catalan love and their new flame, Luis Enrique.

Come the final whistle, it was not the homecoming Guardiola had planned. He led Manchester City into battle against Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday, and his new side stood toe to toe with the European giants. That was until Fernandinho slipped, and the children Pep had helped raise showed no remorse to their former guardian.

A final scoreline of 4-0 did City a disservice, but it should be a bitter lesson. The statistics suggest a far more even game – possession was 53% to 47% in Barcelona’s favour, the hosts had 12 shots to City’s eight, and seven on target to their four – but the intangibles were the undoing of the visitors. The Fernandinho slip, and the subsequent delayed reaction; the John Stones missed header; the Claudio Bravo madness; the magnificence of a below-par Lionel Messi, who scored three times, won a penalty and assisted the fourth goal in one of his more error-strewn performances in recent memory. Sometimes there is simply nothing you can do.

Guardiola admitted as much pre-match. “I don’t know what instructions I can give the players to control the talent,” he said. “It is a good test for us, to know our level against – for me – the best team.” The test results were returned with haste; the manager and his players failed.

For all City’s positivity, their eventual demise was of their very own doing. Guardiola explained the omission of Sergio Aguero from his starting line-up, reasoning that he “wanted more midfield players”. Yet the defence was continually exposed to a world-class attack, and no-one was able to convert any of the number of chances the visitors created. If only they had one of the world’s best strikers on the bench…

Those comments on Aguero and the midfield came before the game, with no hindsight or evidence to suggest it was a poor call. Guardiola has no such excuse with his defence of Bravo after the game. “Until my very last day as coach I will try to play it from the goalkeeper,” he said. “When we play good, it’s because it starts from there.”

And when City have played poorly this season, it often starts from the goalkeeper, too. For a player signed specifically with one tactic and one system in mind, Bravo is looking increasingly out of place.

A manager’s faith in his ideals and philosophy is admirable, but only up to a point. When performances are inadequate, results are the fallback; City are struggling to find consistency in either. For Guardiola to insist he will not alter his approach even slightly, not seek to adapt – this after his joint-heaviest ever defeat as a manager – is brave. Time will tell if it proves to be as harmful as encouraging his side to give the ball to his goalkeeper.

 

Matt Stead

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