Tuesday 23 January 2018

Ronnie Whelan: City's cup exit was pathetic - Guardiola faces his biggest managerial challenge

Read Ronnie Whelan every week only in The Herald

Manchester City's Brandon Barker, Martin Demichelis, David Faupala, Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany after the final whistle during the Emirates FA Cup, fifth round match at Stamford Bridge
Manchester City's Brandon Barker, Martin Demichelis, David Faupala, Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany after the final whistle during the Emirates FA Cup, fifth round match at Stamford Bridge

Herald Sport

Bad as things are at Old Trafford at the moment, the blue half of Manchester has no reason to feel smug, Pep Guardiola or no Pep Guardiola.

In fact, I would say that City fans are the ones who have an even bigger reason to feel let down than their rivals.

The most annoying thing about City is the fact that they, above all other clubs, have the required levels of talent to canter away with the Premier League title this season.

While a motley crew of kids, reservists and bench warmers were being ripped apart in the FA Cup by Chelsea, Leicester City’s players were enjoying their last day of sunshine and relaxation thanks to a week off granted by their boss Claudio Ranieiri.

There was a massive, overbearing weight of publicity building around Ranieiri and his players. This break took that away for the moment and allowed them some breathing space.

With 12 games to focus on, Leicester have no concerns about Cups, domestic or otherwise, and they’ve had a chance to ease any injuries and recharge.

Perhaps the Leicester players themselves felt that they wanted to keep the ball rolling and that a break in the schedule for the FA Cup was not ideal.

A few days on the beach in February has a way of changing that kind of thinking and I expect Leicester to be right on it again when they take on Norwich.

While they were away, the spotlight has been on Louis van Gaal and Manchester United. But after this truly pathetic excuse for a performance from City, the headlines will switch to Pellegrini and his players.

There’s a weakness at the heart of this squad which is in full flower now and tells me a lot about the way it was assembled in the first place when Thai business tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra was bankrolling operations.

I wonder do clubs do any background checks about the players they are buying these days. I reckon not.

At Liverpool in my day, a great effort was put into finding out about the person behind the transfer target or trainee.

Even when it is blindingly obvious that a player will be trouble, clubs still spend money on them. City had Mario Balotelli and still have Yaya Toure.

I know Toure is fantastic when he’s right. However, he takes a lot of deserved stick for not trying very hard in games but he’s not the only one in Pellegrini’s team with questionable commitment in three consecutive defeats.

Guardiola has to somehow fix this and it runs deep, we learned that yesterday.

A club with Champions League aspirations with a squad numbering 30 plus should have been able to offer some sort of resistance to Chelsea.

But they looked beaten from the start just as Pellegrini has looked beaten since Guardiola announced he was quitting Bayern Munich.

My worst fears for City have come true. The players are in a holding pattern until Guardiola arrives and if my guess is right, Pellegrini was told to put all his head-liners into cotton wool.

He looked uncomfortable trying to explain away what was an almost unforgivable insult to the FA Cup at the end of a week when we learned that the big clubs want to mess with the format and have a set of “proposals”.

I’m not sure the effort to protect his best players will make any difference. It strikes me that City will struggle no matter what team is on the pitch and that Guardiola will face a problem he has never had to face before as a manager.

At Barcelona, he was part of a revolution and grew up as a coach and manager at a stable club beside people who were all but family.

At Bayern Munich he was once again in a stable environment and took over a squad which had just won the Champions League, German Bundesliga and Cup

With a core made up of key men in Germany’s World Cup winning team and money to spend, it wasn’t exactly a struggle for him.

At Manchester City he will inherit a lad who took the hump when he didn’t get a birthday card from the club.

I’m not sure how I’d start . Guardiola has a very big and very new challenge on his hands.

Herald Sport

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