When it was announced in February 2016 that Pep Guardiola would take charge of Manchester City in the 2016/17 season it was set to mark the entering of a new era for the club. He was heralded as the football genius who would bring a new philosophy that would crack Manchester City’s Champion’s League conundrum, but just how successful has Pep been so far?
Pep and his newly acquired Manchester City side started the season in quite literally record breaking fashion, becoming only the second team to win their first ten competitive games (including a win against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United at Old Trafford) since the double winning Tottenham side of the 1960s. No team, including the dominant 70/80s Liverpool and 90/00s Manchester United teams, had managed to achieve this feat and many City fans had begun to believe that the league was already won. Unfortunately for them, that proved not to be the case.
October would see City go without a win for the entire month; defensively, they had collapsed. Newly signed goalkeeper Claudio Bravo struggled to transition to the Premier League and went unaided by City’s poor back line. Three aging fullbacks in Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta and the inexperience of centre backs John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, would see Manchester City concede nine goals in five games. City’s front line, although formidable, had become completely impotent during the same disastrous autumn run scoring just two goals in the same five games;Pep Guardiola himself identifying squandered chances as the reason for his team’s poor form.
Inconsistency plagued City going forward as Guardiola tried to implement his unique footballing philosophy into an aging Manchester City squad. A 4-2 loss to Leicester and a 4-0 loss to Everton in January led many to question Pep’s credibility and whether he was a managerial virtuoso or if his success was the product of already successful teams.
Despite being convincingly beaten in the Champions League Last 16 by an offensively brilliant Monaco side, the introduction of Gabriel Jesus, for an injured Sergio Aguero, proved to be the spark Manchester City needed to bring about a change in fortunes. The youngster went on to score seven and assists four goals in just eight league appearances, including the final three games of the season. Finishing the season out of all other cup competitions allowed City to focus their attention on the leg and a last-minute scramble for Champion’s League qualification, eventually finishing third in the league following a string of dominant performances in the final games of the season.
At the end of the season Pep Guardiola had led Manchester City to a third-place finish, a last 16 champions league exit, and two unsuccessful domestic cup runs leaving Manchester City chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak with “nothing to celebrate”. Having spent £180m, to improve an already strong squad, many have criticised Pep and deemed his first season as a failure; the buzzword ‘fraud’ has been tossed about by fans and pundits alike. However, in context, the Spaniard’s first season cannot be deemed a complete failure. Certainly, decisions (or lack of) such as the failure to acquire credible fullbacks, squad inconsistency, and an over-reliance on style in crunch games hindered City immensely throughout the season. But it is easy to forget that Guardiola is dealing with an aging squad with an average age of 28.9 years, many of whom have spent their entire careers playing a completely different footballing style to that of the Spaniard. This uncompromising change in style proved to wear out City’s aging side, causing their a mid-season slump in form that was bookmarked by dominance on either side.
With City set to spend big in the upcoming transfer window as they envision Premier League domination, a true assessment of Guardiola’s first season in charge of the Sky Blues cannot be given. Will the troublesome 2016/17 season be used as the necessary stepping stone, or is it a sign of things to come?