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What is the major obstacle blocking Manchester City's title defence?

Thursday 10th January 2019

Image: Martin Palazzotto, CC by NC-SA 4.0

Manchester City fans breathed a sigh of relief when their Sky Blues defeated Premier League leaders Liverpool at the Etihad three days into the new year. A draw or loss would have left the Cityzens either seven or ten points behind which is only close in American football. Instead, the gap narrowed to a seemingly manageable four points. I say seemingly because another challenge, far more intimidating than Jurgen Klopp's Reds, waits just over the horizon. Not many people know, but City boss Pep Guardiola is an April Fool.

No, Guardiola's not a practical joker. That's Kyle Walker's department. Besides, April Fools pranks only occur on the first of the month and are limited to the morning if you're a purist. The harmless gags are minor distractions you can laugh away and get back to the business of defending your Premier League crown. Pep's problem is making it through the entire month intact.

At all three clubs he's managed in all nine seasons, April is the Catalan's worst month by a steep, uphill country mile. He loses more matches and drops more points in the year's fourth month than any other.

You're reading this now because I had it in my head that Guardiola struggles in cold-weather months. He doesn't.

November is his winningest career month at 51. Even better, it's tied with September for fewest defeats [2] if you don't count June and July when no competitive matches take place.

Jack Frost nips at his nose a bit in December. Pep owns 50 victories in the year's last stanza but also ten defeats.  

When the New Year arrives he begins to warm up to the dipping mercury. The 47-year-old entered this month on 39 wins and added two. He's on pace to hit 45, which is in mid-table for his career calendar. That's deceiving, though, because he's managed three seasons in the Bundesliga which takes the first two or three weeks in the month off. 

February and March are two of his worst months for wins. He's on pace for 41 and 45 respectively in those two stanzas. On the other hand, they're among his best months for defeats with just five apiece at the moment. If he maintains his pattern, he'll come away from each with just one more set-back in the books. His squads grind out results to keep everything from going tits up.


Data compiled from Transfermarkt.com

Unfortunately, Bessy can't keep her feet in April. Most likely, fatigue sets in from the constant pressing Guardiola's teams apply. They cover so much ground. Add to that the manager's reluctance to rotate. 

Guardiola hasn't accepted the criticism he received for naming only six bench players for last February's trip to Burnley. Last night, he faced League One's ninth-place club, Burton Albion, who are 51 rungs below his squad, Pep named several reserve players but only started Oleksandr Zinchenko and recently recalled keeper Arijanet Muric from his younger players. Phil Foden came off the bench to score in the 9-0 EFL Cup semifinal first-leg rout. The remaining reserves were all top-class internationals. With such little trust in his youth players, it's little wonder Jadon Sancho and Brahim Diaz jumped ship.

It's also little wonder the manager has lost more games far and away in April than any other month. The count now stands at 15. Of course, we're talking about Pep Guardiola, not Alan Pardew. He's still won 39 and drawn 11 in easily his busiest month. That's not the point.

Losing two from nine would be acceptable to most but Pep's clubs challenge to win titles every season. In a division as competitive as the Premier League, April losses can't be made up. Just one may mean the difference between hoisting a trophy and brooding through a miserable summer. Defeats are even more critical when you're playing from behind, trying to close the gap on Liverpool.

City fans had every right to laugh and sing about the Burton Albion score. Many probably partied and revelled through the night. If they did, however, they'd best remember the pounding headache, upset stomach and weak knees when they woke up this morning. History suggests they'll be feeling the same without the celebration beforehand when April turns into May and the title's slipped away.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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