After five games without a win, another error leading to a goal and half time boos ringing in small sections around the Etihad against Southampton, I find myself, bizarrely, debating this.
Rewind to last month and I would’ve punched myself in the face in bemusement at such a thought – especially considering we mostly outplayed United at Old Trafford, scored 19 goals in six games away from home in all competitions, and bamboozled opposition ill-equipped to cope with the passing style of Pep’s 21-trophy-winning philosophy.
So, what’s happened? What is the difference between then and now? The answer is simply nothing. Despite what statistics, score lines and individual errors may suggest, you can’t differentiate between Guardiola’s playing style pre and post the beginning of October.
Claudio Bravo still insistently plays out from the back, that will never change, no matter how many opposite numbers surround the penalty area and put him under pressure going at 100mph. The lads still riskily pass across the edge of their own box regardless of the lack of options and John Stones continues to dribble his way out of precarious situations.
The only aspect Pep hasn’t seemed to have taken into account, judging by our previous five outings, is the method in which sides are attempting to put a stop to the free flowing rhythms of passing that made him the most successful ever coach at the Nou Camp.
It all started away to Celtic in the Champions League, where Brendan Rodgers and the alleged group minnows chased us all over the pitch and matched us man-to-man for what turned out to be a hard fought draw for the Blues.
The Hoops could’ve easily sat back on the edge of the 18-yard-box and fill up as much space as possible with a green and white shirt, but instead they didn’t allow us any room to breathe or time on the ball past the half way line.
A similar tactic ensued at White Hart Lane the following weekend. Spurs took full advantage of harrying and matching us without some of our key men, most notably Kevin De Bruyne and Bacary Sagna, and ended up resoundingly triumphant. Mainly due to superior physicality.
What followed was a much improved performance against Everton that should’ve seen us come away with all three points with a stellar performance from Toffees’ keeper Maarten Stekelenburg being the only obstacle.
Now, after arguably our greatest ever performance against Barcelona made irrelevant thanks to costly errors and an upgraded second half showing at home to Southampton not being enough to win the game, we find ourselves still sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League table. A testament to City’s unbelievable start to the season.
However, should we be concerned with Spurs and Celtic’s high pressing, working? Or Everton and Southampton’s counter attacking getting the better of us also? I wouldn’t be too concerned. It is still ridiculously early on in Pep’s tenure. With injury problems and costly mistakes often getting the better of us, along with a few noteworthy opposing individual performances – Tika Taka can’t be written off, and won’t be, even in the Premier League.
Adjusting to the new regime
Guardiola himself stated to the BBC that individual errors were not to blame for poor form, but it’s a matter of how we respond. It is hard to argue with one of the most successful managers in world football, but in time, I do believe mistakes at the back costing us matches will eventually be ironed out of our play as the team become more accustomed to the Catalan’s new style.
Undoubtedly, it is a patience game – let’s not forget just four months ago we were quite consistently lumping long balls from the back trying to find Wilfried Bony or Yaya Touré, both of whom are now no longer in the squad let alone the team.
Even if we don’t manage to win the league this season, our faith in Pep Guardiola will pay dividends – evident from his philosophy being applied from the bottom upwards at La Masia thanks to Johan Cruyff. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was FC Barcelona and, eventually, nor City. His philosophy, in time, will be stamped into our very DNA as a club – but first, patience is needed.
Written by Emilio Galantini
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