Should Guardiola focus on the Champions League?
Background image: Higor Douglas, CC BY-SA 4.0
Is Manchester City’s title challenge over? Falling fourteen(!) points behind Liverpool after the derby loss to United perhaps says so. Of course, with the two-time defending champions, you can never say never.
However, there is a vulnerability which has taken their invincibility tag away from them. Unfortunately, Liverpool have borrowed it to grind out wins even through the rigorous fixture schedule. Sure, they’ve stumbled apart after Christmas to give away big leads before, but this time there’s unseen confidence flowing.
Unless injuries to big players or a damned curse befall, 2020 looks their year to end their Premier League woes. In all fairness, the Citizens won’t and shouldn’t give up without a fight. One wouldn’t expect any less. To prove they still have the champion mentality inscribed inside, they must develop a stronger character to end the year in style.
Before New Year’s eve, City visit Arsenal and Wolves while also hosting high-flying Leicester City. It’s safe to say any more dropped points can end their title dreams. Despite their struggles, The Gunners still boast a potent attacking base to unravel their shaky backline. With a nervy Emirates craving for a big win, they’ll go firing on all cylinders to make a big statement. A potential new manager could also be at the helm.
Having stumbled to Newcastle United, Guardiola’s side must not repeat the same mistakes. They need vigilance and ruthlessness in the final third to stop an onslaught from the Gunners before its inception. The last time Wolves lost a league game was in September. Since then, they’re only bested by Liverpool in the undefeated charts.
With a dangerous counter-attacking style, Nuno Espirito Santo's side deal the same bite as United. Unless the Sky Blues tighten up, they’d be exposed to similar issues. Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez’s chemistry marred with Adama Traore’s blistering pace could recreate the derby horrors.
Leicester boasts a defensive record to even make Pep envious. Jamie Vardy is having a party again, while their flexible midfield reflects Brendan Rodgers’ philosophy. Unless the Sky Blues come up with a commendable win in their return to the Etihad, severe doubts will start creeping on how much of a “fortress” it is anymore.
The funny thing is, even upon winning the remaining games in 2019, they could still find themselves a long way off the top spot. During in their busy December, Liverpool possesses enough quality in depth to see out their matches relatively easily. Their trip to Leicester could result in dropped points, but even so, the lead is huge.
At this point, the defending champions can just pray for lady luck’s aid after January. Or else, they could make their own luck somewhere else. If the big deficit from the top spot isn’t overturned by February, they should divert their priorities. The Champions League has been plain sailing for Guardiola’s side in the group stages.
Of course, rougher tides are about to arrive soon. Though before the knockout rounds their injury woes are expected to have eased up. Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane are scheduled to return in January. A fully fit City remains amongst the most dangerous sides in Europe, despite Pep Guardiola’s best efforts to divert the fact with reverse psychology.
Apart from their central defence, they have enormous depth in every single department. With Kevin de Bruyne churning out masterclasses, Raheem Sterling looking his most dangerous, Riyad Mahrez tuning up the trickery and Sergio Aguero still going strong, they have enough firepower to blow away anyone else.
But the aspect to put utmost work into is fine-tuning their mental fortitude. Despite their widespread dominance, the Citizens tend to crumble under the Champions League lights. If they’re to go all the way, the players must hold a strong resolve, believe in their abilities and display fearlessness.
At the Football Writers Association’s awards, Guardiola had an amusing exchange with Jurgen Klopp. He joked about how he wanted the Champions League, while the Liverpool boss craved the Premier League and how they should exchange prizes. Perhaps the man from Catalonia should set his priorities straight to make that dream a reality this season.