As the full-time whistle was blown on the south coast and Che Adams’ first strike in a Southampton shirt handed Manchester City their NINTH Premier League defeat of the season, Pep Guardiola was lost for words as he pondered how their title defence had gone so wrong.
Only days before, City had restored some pride after a resounding 4-0 victory over newly-crowned champions Liverpool – the team they’ve had a highly-competitive back-and-forth with over the past couple of seasons – but the crushing blow of yet another unexpected and embarrassing defeat has left them wounded, looking vulnerable and unsure of themselves.
‘It’s difficult even for me to find a reason why,’ Guardiola uttered after the Saints defeat that marked their third away league loss on the bounce – a first such run for the Spanish manager who is so used to being a champion.
Manchester City suffered their ninth defeat of the Premier League season at Southampton
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola could not explain what went wrong at St Mary’s
So, where has it gone wrong for City?
They are heavy favourites to take three points at home to Newcastle tonight but don’t forget that Liverpool, Manchester United, Wolves and even Arsenal – the apparent crisis club of the league – have all suffered fewer defeats than City this season. Both newly-promoted Sheffield United and Leicester City are also sitting on nine losses, the most that Guardiola has ever had in a single season as a boss.
Sep 4 – Norwich 3-2 Man City
Oct 6 – Man City 0-2 Wolves
Nov 10 – Liverpool 3-1 Man City
Dec 7 – Man City 1-2 Man United
Dec 27 – Wolves 3-2 Man City
Feb 2 – Tottenham 2-0 Man City
Mar 8 – Man United 2-0 Man City
June 25 – Chelsea 2-1 Man City
July 5 – Southampton 1-0 Man City
Can the finger be pointed at him? The serial winner is about to finish his fourth season at the Etihad and is closing in on his longest stay at any football club.
Some could argue that he is losing his ability to motivate his players for yet another league title, whilst others would say that he has lost his edge and is a boss that can never build on success over a long period of time. Recent history would suggest the latter could be true.
He began his career at Barcelona, a club he had made great strides with as a player, and was the mastermind behind one of the greatest sides ever to play the game from 2008 to 2012.
As he left the Catalan club, he cited his reason for walking as tiredness and claimed that his four years in charge of the first team felt like ‘eternity’.
After several domestic and European triumphs, he moved to Bayern Munich where he asserted their dominance in Germany but could not clinch another Champions League trophy.
It appeared he had rediscovered the sparkle of his former Barcelona squad – 10 years prior – as he steered City to their second consecutive league title in 2019.
However, creating the dynasty that looked so possible only last season has become a distant dream in the wake of Liverpool’s success.
Liverpool, Manchester United, Wolves and even Arsenal have all suffered less defeats this term
City have surpassed the amount of losses from their last two seasons combined in 33 matches
Is it the players? The team has character, proved by bouncing back after their first loss of the season; which came in a rather surprising manner against Norwich as they went down 3-2.
City dusted themselves off to respond with an 8-0 victory over Watford. After taking a five-goal lead in the first 18 minutes, that Norwich defeat seemed like a blip, nothing more.
However, as the season progressed they fell at the hands of Wolves, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham while the Reds continued an unbeaten march at the summit of the table. City have surpassed the amount of losses from their last two seasons combined in the 33 league matches this time around.
Sergio Aguero has become the latest key player to be injured as City have been plagued
Injuries have also been an issue for Guardiola after having notable absentees from the off – with Leroy Sane (now off to Bayern Munich) and Aymeric Laporte both out for months.
He has also had to deal with his first-choice left-back Benjamin Mendy constantly battling little niggles and now has Sergio Aguero out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
Off the field, City have also had some obstacles to deal with as they await the outcome of their Court of Arbitration for Sport appeal after being handed a two-year ban from the Champions League by UEFA over FFP breaches.
The club also face a two-year ban from the Champions League after financial fair play breach
If the club’s appeal does not work, they could lose some of their best talents in a fire sale
The potential knock-on effect if their ban stands could be huge. Players such as Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are still shining despite their team’s sub-par season and it is unlikely they would be happy with a two-year hiatus from the Champions League.
Big clubs may look to lure City’s best talents with a chance for European glory.
They do remain in the Champions League this term, set to resume in August, and will defend a 2-1 lead against Real Madrid in the second leg of the last 16.
If they were to go all the way and finally win their first Champions League trophy, they could become the first ever club to not have the chance to defend it if they are expelled from next season and their ban sticks.
European glory would give Guardiola something of a reprieve from this season’s domestic woes. But, rest assured, the City hierarchy will not take kindly to being so far off Liverpool again next season.
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