Monday 1 May 2017

Ronnie Whelan: Man City are still as flaky as ever - what exactly has Pep Guardiola achieved at Man City?

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HULL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City reacts during the Premier League match between Hull City and Manchester City at KCOM Stadium on December 26, 2016 in Hull, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
HULL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City reacts during the Premier League match between Hull City and Manchester City at KCOM Stadium on December 26, 2016 in Hull, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Ronnie Whelan

Ronnie Whelan

Manchester City fans must be very confused. They got the best manager in the world but all around them, other clubs with big name bosses are getting on with it while their team struggles.

Liverpool’s win over City at Anfield on New Year’s Eve was hugely significant for all sorts of reasons.

Most importantly for Liverpool fans, it was carved out with a precise and professional performance. I could quibble about the absence of a second goal to kill the game but the value of the three points overwhelms that.

Against Bournemouth, Liverpool learned a very hard lesson when they twice lost a two-goal lead and ultimately, the match.

Against City, they proved that they had absorbed the pain and turned it into something positive.

They defended their lead against City by doing all the basics well. Early on, they set winning with a great intensity and it produced a goal.

Klopp cut his cloth when he had that lead and Liverpool tucked in, became a much together defensive unit and put it up to City to score.

It was very heartening and establishes Liverpool as Antonio Conte’s main worry. Not his only worry because in a few days, he crosses London to meet Tottenham, themselves now oozing form and goals. That is now a big, big fixture.

All the while, an apparently very relaxed Pep Guardiola gazes off into the distance and reassures City fans that it will be fine, some day, when they would much prefer to see their team winning now.

In fact, if you were to make a half-term report on the long list of top notch new managers in the Premier League, Pep would be lagging behind.

Conte started badly, regrouped and now has the best team in the division. Spurs in a purple patch will test Chelsea to their limit and that’s the way it will be from now on.

If there are any weaknesses in this Chelsea team, they will be exposed because there are teams around this season to do it, unlike last season when Leicester sauntered away from everyone almost unopposed.

The point is that Conte got his feet under the table and quickly began to make a difference with a group of players which fell apart under Jose Mourinho.

Mourinho too is making a difference. There is no comparison between this version of Manchester United and the stodgy outfit Louis van Gaal limped along with.

Again, a manager who had a bad start has recovered and made a difference.

It goes without saying that Klopp is making a huge difference at Anfield and fans now believe that this is the man to bring a title back.

Perhaps it might take another season but it’s tangible now.

Mauricio Pochettino had a bad finish to last season and an equally dodgy spell to start this one but to continue the theme, he has turned it around and made a difference with his players.

But what, exactly, has Guardiola done?

Manchester City are still flaky, perhaps even more so.

This character trait which City have always been cursed with has not been eliminated under Guardiola. Anything but.

Roberto Mancini struggled with it and Manuel Pellegrini also had to wrestle with this Jekyll and Hyde persona which the City team displays from match to match and season to season. If I spent my hard-earned on a season ticket, I would be feeling mighty uncomfortable to see the best manager in the world coughing and spluttering along behind teams in top form.

Mourinho’s United has a bit of momentum now and there were elements of the win against Middlesbrough which reminded me of what the club used to be about. They never stopped thinking for a second that they could beat Middlesbrough and got the goals they needed by hook or by crook.

That’s a great sign and one which Mourinho must have been delighted to see. If his players are willing to fight for him, he has a chance.

Across town, Pep must be wondering what he has gotten himself into.

While Conte and Chelsea continue to ladle on the pressure, Guardiola will be exposed to an ever more searching glare. He needs some results fast.

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