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Guardiola is a bona fide winner, but how good is he when his teams have to chase?

Guardiola is a bona fide winner, but how good is he when his teams have to chase?

Eight points behind Liverpool after just eight games, Man City have it all to do.

By his very nature, Pep Guardiola is a frontrunner. Philosophically, he might even be a trailblazer, setting the zeitgeist for an entire generation of the game with his methods and ideas as a coach. As a competitor, though, the Catalan is unaccustomed to trailing behind. That’s just another reason why Manchester City’s current plight is so jarring.

Defeat to Wolves on Saturday left the defending Premier League champions a massive eight points behind rivals and early season pace-setters Liverpool. Only eight games of the 2019/20 season have been played, but the task in front of Guardiola and his players is already a daunting one. Given the way both City and Liverpool have played of late, some are already calling the title race.

Of course, City trailed Liverpool last season and still managed to catch the Anfield side to clinch their second successive Premier League title. Jurgen Klopp’s side even held a seven-point lead at the top of the table on January 3, but games in-hand and goal difference meant Man City always seemed to be in touch. This time, that dynamic might be different.

For all his undeniable brilliance as a coach and a footballing mind, Guardiola has still to prove himself as a chaser. Great managers are often defined by their great comebacks and the Catalan has still to pull one off. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger both did it in the late 1990s, Roberto Mancini can even claim to have done it with Man City as recently as 2012. This season now presents Guardiola with an opportunity to upset the odds in his own way.

Only twice in 10 seasons as a top level manager (ignoring his formative years as Barca B boss) has Guardiola missed out on the league title. There was the 2011/12 season where Jose Mourinho finally got the better of his nemesis, leading Real Madrid to their first La Liga championship in four years. Barcelona only lost three league games that season. They won 14 of their last 16 fixtures. Mourinho and Real Madrid were simply unstoppable. 

There was also his first season in the Premier League, when Man City just about scraped a top four finish. That season, Guardiola’s first in England, was compromised by a number of factors. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss was still getting across his ideas at the Etihad Stadium. He lacked the players required to impose the identity he wanted. This was a season for Guardiola to get his feet under the Premier League desk.

Never before has the 48-year-old faced a challenge like the one he is faced with now. At Bayern Munich, Guardiola strolled to three consecutive Bundesliga titles. At Barcelona, Guardiola’s team boasted a supremacy that was only surpassed for one season before Mourinho’s Real Madrid quickly fell away. Liverpool’s challenge, on the contrary, has been sustained. It’s been building for a long time.

Mourinho’s Real Madrid also only opened up their stride towards the back end of the 2011/12 season. At this stage of the campaign, Barca actually held a narrow one-point lead over their rivals at the top of La Liga. By Christmas, Real Madrid’s advantage stood at just three points. 

Not even at this stage of Guardiola’s first Premier League season were City in such a perilous position. In fact, after eight games of the 2016/17 season they were joint-top of the table. To be this far behind this early in the campaign is something entirely new for Guardiola in his managerial career. It has never happened to him before. But from this less than ideal situation comes an opportunity. Comebacks tend to stick in the memory more than anything else in football. Guardiola has the chance to pull off a great one.





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Graham Ruthven
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