When Pep Guardiola was chosen as Barcelona’s manager in 2008, it was done on his merit, vision, footballing brain and philosophy.
Barcelona’s hierarchy wanted to end Real Madrid’s dominance by not by splashing cash around, but by using new playing methods and approaching the game differently.
Guardiola won a hat-trick of La Liga titles and lifted two Champions League trophies among other honours during his four-year managerial stint at the Camp Nou.
The Spaniard introduced quick and incisive football which ultimately became too difficult for oppositions to handle.
Guardiola also ingrained the famous tiki-taka brand of football at Barcelona, which became a huge hit not just for the club but for the national team as well.
After taking a sabbatical for a year, Pep Guardiola took charge of Bayern Munich in the summer of 2013.
He changed his tactics to the type of players he had at his disposal at the Allianz Arena.
He opted for midfield pressing and tucking of full-backs, instead of marauding them down the flanks.
Again, Guardiola won three consecutive Bundesliga titles but fell short of winning the Champions League, facing defeats in the semi-finals in each of his three seasons in Germany.
It was just a matter of when and which team he would manage in the Premier League.
After some convincing from the Middle-Eastern owners and the chance of working again with a few of his former colleagues at Barcelona, Guardiola decided to take the managerial reins at Manchester City in 2016.
Despite the arrivals of Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan, Gabriel Jesus, Claudio Bravo, and John Stones among others, the Citizens finished third in the league in Guardiola’s first season in England.
Manchester City suffered six defeats in the league and conceded four goals each against Leicester City and Everton in two of the most humiliating defeats of Guardiola’s managerial career.
The Spaniard understood the intricacies and the unpredictability of the Premier League and went on to spend big in the summer of 2017 to completely overhaul the defence with the arrivals of Ederson, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo.
Manchester City took the Premier League by storm in 2017-18, winning it after collecting an astonishing 100 points and facing just two defeats. The critics and pundits applauded the Citizens and predicted that Pep Guardiola’s team will dominate the league for years to come.
In the history of the Premier League since its inception in 1992/93, the league title has been successfully defended only seven times, with Manchester United being the only team to achieve a hat-trick of wins twice (1998-2001 and 2006-09).
Pep Guardiola, who had full confidence in his side, aimed at winning back-to-back Premier League titles, with Riyad Mahrez being the only notable addition to his squad at the start of the 2018-19 campaign.
As contrary to the 2017-18 season, where the difference between the first and the second spot was a staggering 19 points, the 2018-19 campaign was different as Manchester City faced stiff competition from Liverpool right from the start.
But the Citizens held on to their nerve and won their second Premier League title on the trot by just a solitary point as Liverpool gave them a real run for their money.
While the Reds won the Champions League, Manchester City also lifted the FA Cup and the League Cup, thereby becoming the first English team to win the domestic treble.
Pep Guardiola was ready to guide Manchester City to their third consecutive league triumph at the start of the season, much like he managed at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but Liverpool had other plans.
In the 2019-20 season, even before Liverpool played Manchester City for the second time, the title was already wrapped up.
Although Manchester City won the game 4-0 after giving a guard of honour to the Liverpool players, the Citizens never really managed to match the Reds’ intensity throughout the campaign.
Liverpool have been so good that they are favourites to break the 100-point barrier set by City and set up several new records by the end of the season.
So, what should Pep Guardiola and Manchester City do to reclaim their spot at the top of the Premier League table next season?
Different playing styles
A major part of Manchester City’s problem this season has been their refusal to alter their playing style.
On the other hand, while Liverpool tend to hound their opponents into submission at times, they have been less expansive too. 14 of their 29 league wins so far this season have been by a single goal, which is almost 50 per cent.
In contrast, 76.2 per cent of Manchester City’s Premier League wins have been by two goals or more (16 of 21).
City’s certain passing movements and rigid style of play have been decoded by several teams in the league as they suffered nine defeats in the Premier League this season, and during some of those games, the players looked absolutely lethargic, to say the least.
Aymeric Laporte, who has endured an injury-raved campaign, was dearly missed in defence and without him, Manchester City have been in shambles.
Why no centre-back was signed last summer even after knowing Vincent Kompany would be leaving will forever remain a mystery.
Pep Guardiola needs to bring in a quality centre-back, while he also has to deploy Fernandinho back to his defensive midfielder role.
The likes of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi have flattered to deceive and it’s high time the Citizens make some solid defensive reinforcements, even in the full-back department.
Pep Guardiola has always been lucky enough to inherit a young group of players, with the average not more than 25-26, along with several experienced campaigners.
However, at the Etihad, the average age of the squad is already 29, and most of the players are at their peak or past their prime.
If the former Barcelona boss wants to build a legacy or a team capable of winning silverware year after year, he needs to promote youngsters such as Phil Foden and Eric Garcia more often.
The young players have a point to prove and are always hungrier, something which the Sky Blues have lacked this term.
Strong and constant starting XI
Pep Guardiola has used the maximum number of players and made the most rotations in the squad amongst the top six teams in the Premier League this season.
Injuries and suspensions might have played a part behind it, but there has been a lack of consistency which has affected the players’ confidence on the ball, as seen against Chelsea after the restart.
Manchester City have to narrow down to a definitive XI so as to create a better team discipline, understanding and communication on the pitch.
Tackling post-COVID-19 times and Champions League ban
Manchester City have already spent close to a billion Euros since the arrival of Pep Guardiola, but he is nowhere close to achieving the target of transforming the Citizens as a European elite.
They need a striker, a winger and a centre-back, at the least.
However, the Etihad outfit might find it difficult to attract top-class players if their two-year Champions League ban is upheld. The coronavirus has already thrown the future of several clubs and its players into jeopardy.
Pep Guardiola has to come up with an out-of-the-box solution to make Manchester City stronger next season or else, Liverpool, the current champions of Europe, the world and England, will keep winning trophies and increase their gap with the Citizens.