Saturday 18 November 2017

John Giles: Pep Guardiola has made a big adjustment at Man City and they're now Chelsea's biggest rivals

Read John Giles every week in The Herald.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
John Giles

John Giles

Pep Guardiola turned a corner this week.

From now on, I expect to see Manchester City move into the role as Chelsea’s biggest threat.

He has learned his lesson about Premier League football and come to the realisation that whatever vision he had for the way he wanted City to play, it wasn’t working and he needed to adjust.

Go back to the start of the season when Guardiola doggedly insisted that his team’s excellent start was based on a goalkeeper who could play with the ball and his full-backs pushing into midfield.

Whether through the force of his own personality or simply good fortune, his new approach to the game worked for a while but then began to show gaps which could not be denied.

When you mess with the fundamentals, there is very rarely a good outcome and from what I’ve seen of City in recent weeks and particularly against West Ham the other night, Guardiola now sees the error of his ways.

Great managers make mistakes but, are brave enough to admit it to themselves even if it might take a while for the penny to drop. I’ve seen managers make the same mistake during a full career and never cop on.

I don’t have any problem with that. Managers are human beings too and nobody is perfect, even Guardiola.

I actually think Guardiola is a bit too honest for his own good. After Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Anfield, I didn’t like hearing him talk about the gap to Antonio Conte’s side being too big for City to have any hope of a title this season. He may think that and we may all agree with him but you never say it out loud.

His actions should speak much louder than words and against the Hammers, I saw all the things which made me admire Guardiola’s work in the past.

They were wonderful against West Ham and Guardiola set his team up in, for want of a better word, in a more orthodox way.

I even saw Willy Cabellero take a few long kick-outs and defenders play some long balls, a clear signal that Guardiola has pulled back from his “new” way of playing,

This is good news for Manchester City fans and good news for the title race.

Once he sticks with this approach, I see less chance that Guardiola will witness any more inexplicable results against lesser teams during the rest of the season and looking at his schedule for the next few months, he will have plenty of mid-level and relegation threatened clubs to deal with.

These are the type of teams that Sergio Aguero can eat for breakfast but judging by events at the London Stadium, he won’t be doing that much for City.

I don’t know whether all the media talk about Real Madrid and the reports of clear-the-air meals with Guardiola have anything to do with this but you have to have a very good reason to leave one of the best strikers in the world sitting on the bench.

The justification against West Ham was easy and obvious. They played brilliantly and won well. Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane are loaded with pace, as is Raheem Sterling and Guardiola mentioned that after the game.

Perhaps he has already written Aguero off as a long-term option and perhaps there is a problem between the two men but it does seem odd that a very good manager can find no way to use such a fantastic goalscorer other than as impact substitute.

I honestly do not see Chelsea slipping up but everyone else must keep them honest and I think Guardiola and City are best equipped to do that now.

Conte who, it should be remembered, also had to change his approach in mid-stream after such a bad start to the season, had a great week and watched all the other main rivals lose ground.

He started with a back four, shifted to three against Hull City back in late September after some bad results against Liverpool and Arsenal and never looked back.

But I was disappointed that they didn’t put Liverpool away when they had the chance to. Chelsea didn’t play like a team with a huge lead in the title race.

Great teams are nasty and relentless about things like that.

When they have a rival on the ropes, they never let up. No mercy.

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