Pep Guardiola is in unfamiliar territory, 14 points ahead of an undefeated Liverpool, and more from the top of the table than he was with any of his previous sides.
Nobody knows better than the 48-year-old. Regeneration is required for his Manchester City squad. The manager knows exactly what to do with his side and what to do.
There are plenty of theories about his future. So what’s the truth about his current situation, what are his plans for the future, and what’s wrong, if anything?
Is this the start of the end at City for Guardiola?
My understanding is, contrary to speculation, the ambition of Guardiola to succeed with City remains undimmed. Yeah, he’s more obsessed and driven than ever, if anything.
The City claims that their manager will be at the club until the end of next season-when his deal is over-and they are already working hard to prepare for the 2020-21 campaign.
People around Guardiola say he’s tired, but the notion he’s at the end of his rope is something all those close to him deny.
He still has imaginative quarrels with his subordinates, the appetite is always clear, and he wants to turn around this situation. But this is a long way from claiming that he is going to renew his contract. Without him, City is planning for life and hope — but don’t expect — he’s going to want a new deal.
No one close Guardiola thinks he’d decide to walk away in the summer, but club sources have confirmed that rumors he’s got a release clause are true-even though he’s denied that’s the case.
That said, for him, only one person knows what’s next. Guardiola is his own man and has always been his.
His daughter and wife, Cristina, are now dividing their week between Manchester and Barcelona on a personal level, where she has business interests. At the same time, their two sons are studying in England. Four days apart, the small disparity is seen as having increased the quality of life of the couple. It’s better, after all, that Pep looks forward to seeing them than the next match is continually overwhelming them.
Mikel Arteta, Guardiola’s assistant, whose exit is imminent, sooner or later, is, in reality, the more immediate concern concerning the coaching staff of City.
Everybody, including Guardiola, knows that Arteta is more than happy to become number one in a top club, and it couldn’t be a better time to join his former Arsenal side, bearing in mind their present fortunes. Guardiola said he wants him to stay until the end of the season, but I don’t think he’s going to fight too much if his number two is given the top job.
And who would succeed Arteta could be the most exciting thing.
Xabi Alonso’s profile is similar to Arteta, and Real Sociedad’s B team is already number one. Another Spanish midfield legend that might be very interested in taking on the job, Xavi Hernandez, is also busy learning the coaching ropes. Or maybe the former arsenal player Giovanni van Bronckhorst from the Netherlands. He’s close to the way of thinking of Guardiola, he’s been learning carefully how everything works at City, and he’s already been a good boss at Feyenoord.
His next step will be unusual as Guardiola decides to move on from Manchester.
In Spain, Germany, and England, he’s won titles, so what about Italy? In Series A, Antonio Conte looks beautifully bedded in at Inter Milan, AC Milan isn’t the side they were on, and Juventus will not be willing to change their style in the way Guardiola would almost certainly suggest (and that urge to transform the form of a top historic club has already been fulfilled in Bayern).
What about the management of an international side such as Italy? Or perhaps Brazil, which in the past showed interest in him. Or let me throw into the mix a curveball. At Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday, after Phil Foden scored in City’s 4-1 victory, Guardiola addressed English youth and said: “For the next decade, England has an outstanding generation of young players.”
Having also supervised the emergence of Raheem Sterling into one of the leading players in Europe, what position is more appropriate for Guardiola than being the next coach in England when Gareth Southgate decides to call it a day? Now that would be very fun to see.
Why is this season so far behind Man City?
The City hopes to become the first team to win three consecutive league titles in a decade, having accrued the two highest points in the history of the Premier League – 100 and 98 – in winning the league over the past two seasons.
But they are as close to 13th-placed Burnley as they are to Liverpool champions, having lost four of their 16 league matches in this campaign. Even if City should win all of its remaining 22 games, they’d ‘ ‘ take their total to 98.
Guardiola thinks he knows exactly what he needs to do to solve his team’s problems. As always, he is in search of solutions. No-one analyzes and dissects in the forensic way he does all facets of each game.
The one fact about any Guardiola squad is that little is left to chance as far as planning is concerned. It is unlikely for anything to happen by mistake, but if it does and can be seen to be a potential benefit to the hand, it will be worked on and refined.
During a recent game, Guardiola and his staff observed a reaction from the opposition to certain midfield conditions. Then he glanced at previous competitions and recalled this “accident” had already happened.
So a new midfield tactic was put into practice for their most recent league match at Burnley, which left Burnley facing a different approach than the one they were expecting. The City has won 4-1 in one of the season’s best games.