Right manager, wrong players? Barca spotlight Guardiola and Man City’s challenge

By Andrew Warshaw

October 20 – He may be regarded as one of the most sought-after and tactically astute modern-minded club coaches in world football but for all his achievements and aspirations, Pep Guardiola, perhaps for the first time, is having to swallow his fair share of disappointment to maintain his remarkable record of success.

Few pundits are in any doubt about Guardiola picking up trophies at Manchester City and turning them into even more of a perennial force in English football than before he arrived in the summer. But Wednesday’s 4-0 Champions League thumping on his return to his beloved Barcelona was a sobering reminder of just how much work he has to do for City to challenge for honours on the European stage.

Lionel Messi’s hat-trick may have dominated the headlines but until City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was sent off, Guardiola’s new team were very much in the game against his old one. Not for the first time, however, defensive blunders cost them dearly – a familiar and worrying scenario for Guardiola and something of a rarity when he was Barca and, later, at Bayern Munich.

“There were two ways to approach the game. We could have sat back and we could have won or lost doing that but I don’t know how to play that way and I don’t want to play that way,” Guardiola said, insisting he would never change his tactical philosophy regardless of where he was managing.

Guardiola controversially left his main striker  Sergio Aguero out of the starting 11 and bemoaned his side’s litany of mistakes so far this season. “We’ve given a lot to our opponents, starting in Glasgow (the 3-3 Champions League draw at Celtic), the own goal against Tottenham, and missing (two) penalties (against Everton).”

Naturally he refused to criticise Bravo, who has done little so far to suggest that, having been bought for €18 million to replace Joe Hart (ironically from Barcelona), he is that much better than the England goalkeeper, sent out by City on loan to Torino.

“Of course he (Bravo) knows what he did,” said Guardiola. “He has a lot of experience, he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world last 10 years but he was the first one to apologise in the dressing room.

Guardiola won 14 trophies in four years with Barcelona and took Bayern Munich to three consecutive Bundesliga titles but is now without a win in four games at City, having begun with 10 straight victories.

“We’ve only known each other for a little while,” he explained, trying to be positive.

Yet that is just the point. As one television pundit pointed out, the personnel at his disposal – unlike at his previous two clubs who traditionally dominated their respective leagues even before his arrival – aren’t up to executing Guardiola’s ideas.

He may, given his ability and style of play, get away with that at the first time of asking in the Premier league even though there are far more title challengers than in Germany or Spain.  But the demands of Europe are that much greater and the next two transfer windows could prove important hunting grounds.

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