Pep Guardiola downplays chances of returning to Barcelona

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. - REUTERSManchester City manager Pep Guardiola. - REUTERS

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. – REUTERS
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="“I’m incredibly happy here, delighted to be in Manchester and hopefully I can do a good job this season to stay longer,” Pep Guardiola said on Friday when asked about the Barcelona presidential candidate, Victor Font, declaring this week that he wants to bring the club’s former European Cup winning coach back to the Nou Camp.” data-reactid=”26″>“I’m incredibly happy here, delighted to be in Manchester and hopefully I can do a good job this season to stay longer,” Pep Guardiola said on Friday when asked about the Barcelona presidential candidate, Victor Font, declaring this week that he wants to bring the club’s former European Cup winning coach back to the Nou Camp.

Guardiola has been clear for some time that, while he would like to stay at Manchester City, he feels he must first earn a new contract after the disappointment of last season and that his only focus, for now, is on giving his team their mojo back.

This was been City’s worst start to a Premier League campaign under the Catalan and, while there have been obvious mitigating circumstances for that – not least a lack of preparation time, injuries, a shortage of match fitness and new signings to assimilate – the need to beat Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday already feels pressing.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Guardiola will have been encouraged by what he saw in the south of France in midweek when City brushed aside Marseille 3-0 playing with an intensity not previously witnessed this term. But, with a challenging next few weeks to navigate, starting against Chris Wilder’s side, and continuing with games at home to Liverpool and away to Spurs, Guardiola will hope that performance and victory proves a springboard to better things.” data-reactid=”29″>Guardiola will have been encouraged by what he saw in the south of France in midweek when City brushed aside Marseille 3-0 playing with an intensity not previously witnessed this term. But, with a challenging next few weeks to navigate, starting against Chris Wilder’s side, and continuing with games at home to Liverpool and away to Spurs, Guardiola will hope that performance and victory proves a springboard to better things.

In every key metric, from goals scored and conceded, shots attempted and faced, conversion rates, touches in the opposition box, possession and passes per game, City are down on the previous two seasons in the league.

In the 1-1 draws to Leeds and West Ham last weekend, City looked largely one-dimensional going forward, a bright first half at Wolves in their opening 3-1 win threatened to be undermined after the interval by familiar defensive vulnerabilities down their left side, and the 5-2 capitulation against Leicester exposed their susceptibility to the counter-attack and fault lines in their press. Defensively, the 1-0 victory over Arsenal was a big improvement but it came at the expense of fluidity and unpredictability in attack.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Fitness levels and the disruption caused by injuries to key players such as Sergio Aguero, Aymeric Laporte and Kevin De Bruyne have clearly been a factor, and explain why Guardiola has been so aggrieved that top flight clubs voted to discontinue the use of five substitutes this term.” data-reactid=”36″>Fitness levels and the disruption caused by injuries to key players such as Sergio Aguero, Aymeric Laporte and Kevin De Bruyne have clearly been a factor, and explain why Guardiola has been so aggrieved that top flight clubs voted to discontinue the use of five substitutes this term.

Laporte and new signing Ruben Dias impressed alongside each other against Marseille and Guardiola will hope he has finally found a solution to his problems at centre-half. But there are other issues to address, not least to his much lauded attack.

Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Group C stage match between Olympique de Marseille and Manchester City at Stade Velodrome on October 27, 2020 in Marseille, France.  - GETTY IMAGESAymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Group C stage match between Olympique de Marseille and Manchester City at Stade Velodrome on October 27, 2020 in Marseille, France.  - GETTY IMAGES

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Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Group C stage match between Olympique de Marseille and Manchester City at Stade Velodrome on October 27, 2020 in Marseille, France.  – GETTY IMAGES

It was notable to see Guardiola start with the right footed Raheem Sterling on the right and the left-footed Phil Foden on the left against Marseille in a departure from what has been a clear move towards inverted wingers over the past year. 

As well as looking far more aggressive pressing from the front, with winger Ferran Torres deputising as a centre-forward in the absence of the injured Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, Foden and Sterling’s deployment allowed City to attack Marseille on the outside and inside, freeing up space for De Bruyne and their other No. 8s and creating a more dynamic edge.

Leroy Sane’s long-term injury last season and subsequent sale to Bayern Munich in the summer robbed City of blistering pace and natural width on the left, a situation compounded by the persistent fitness and confidence issues felt by left back Benjamin Mendy. 

It has resulted in Guardiola predominantly using Sterling on the left flank, where he likes to cut in from the right, but while it helped to deliver the England forward’s best goals return in the league last season (20), he registered only one assist.

By contrast, he provided 11 assists and 18 goals in 29 games in 2017/18, 21 of which he started on the right and, the following year, 10 assists and 17 goals, with almost half of his 31 appearances coming on the right. 

  In that sense, City have lost a key creative outlet on their right side and, at the same time, have become more predictable on the left because, Mendy aside, the other left-backs at Guardiola’s disposal are not suited to overlapping the winger. Oleksandr Zinchenko and Nathan Ake are better at slotting into central midfield and Joao Cancelo is right-footed and wants to cut inside whenever he attacks.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="It is a similar story on the opposite flank where the left-footers, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva, invariably cut inside whenever stationed on the right and, with Kyle Walker not used as a rampaging full-back given how vital his pace is at the back to guarding against counter-attacks, opponents often have one less thing to worry about.&nbsp;” data-reactid=”68″>It is a similar story on the opposite flank where the left-footers, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva, invariably cut inside whenever stationed on the right and, with Kyle Walker not used as a rampaging full-back given how vital his pace is at the back to guarding against counter-attacks, opponents often have one less thing to worry about. 

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