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How many times does Pep Guardiola have to teach us this lesson?!



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It’s the end of December, Manchester City sit third in the table after a comeback win over Everton and victory over Sheffield United, while only two points separate the reigning Champions and first-placed Liverpool. But after Jack Harrison’s goal gave Everton a brief lead on Wednesday night, all hell had broken loose… 

The treble winning Manchester City are currently pushing to become the first ever team to win the Premier League title for a fourth consecutive year. However, it has been far from easy so far this season. 

A barrage of fitness and disciplinary issues have plagued a side that had already lost Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez in the summer transfer window, and arguably without suitable replacements.

It’s not just hindsight. The idea of a squad lacking depth the season after winning the treble during a congested World Cup year seemed incredibly risky in the moment. And it has played out about as poorly as one could have imagined. 

Time and time again, excellent performances have been thrown away in the closing moments. In the seven matches where Manchester City have dropped points so far this season, five of them have had the opposition score in the 80th minute or later. The control that Pep Guardiola has been so obsessive about over the past few years, seemingly thrown at the window in the most vital moments of the match.

However, despite all of the issues, they are still only five points off the top of the Premier League table with a game in hand, and have added another trophy to their overflowing cabinet with their first ever Club World Cup victory.

It’s starting to feel familiar, right? Manchester City in “crisis” in December, but the rest of the Premier League’s rival clubs unable to take advantage and keep Pep Guardiola’s side within striking distance.

At the same point last season, Manchester City were in second place trailing hopeful champions Arsenal by five points. The mid-season World Cup wrecked havoc on the squad, while some of the late December and early January performances would rank amongst some of the worst during Guardiola’s reign. 

It culminated with Pep Guardiola breaking tradition and publicly calling out his team’s lack of passion and desire. For every player in that squad not named João Cancelo, it worked. The full-back was shipped to Bayern Munich in the dead of night on deadline day, John Stones cosplayed as Franz Beckenbauer, and the most innovative and attack-minded manager in the history of the sport relied on line-ups with four centre-backs en route to a treble. 

Well that’s only just once…

Three years ago, Manchester City were all the way down in eighth place heading into Boxing Day. The striker position was up for grabs due to Sergio Aguero’s meniscus tear, yet neither Gabriel Jesus nor Ferran Torres could claim it. It forced Pep Guardiola to resuscitate the false-nine role for the first time in Manchester. It made its debut in a dominant win over Chelsea, and was the hallmark of the side for 18 months.

The false-nine wasn’t the only return though.

By December 2020, it was looking as though John Stones’ career in Manchester was over. The often-injured centre-back was originally brought in to be the cornerstone of Pep’s time in England, but it wasn’t working out. After a few promising performances, the former Everton man became undroppable alongside new signing Ruben Dias and allowed Manchester City to win the title by 12 points. 

Two times, just a coincidence…

Don’t worry there’s still one more. Five years ago, Manchester City trailed (you guessed it!) Liverpool by seven points on Boxing Day in 2018. There was (moronic) talk that Pep Guardiola had been figured out and Manchester City’s record breaking season the year prior was going to be a one off. 

A week later and the lead was cut to four, after Leroy Sane’s sublime finish gave Manchester City the win over Liverpool in what remains one of the greatest Premier League matches of all time. While it didn’t hand the title over to City in that moment, it was the catalyst that led to the first of many championship run-ins. 

So just to recap, that makes three of Pep Guardiola’s five Premier League wins coming after City were trailing at the end of the calendar year. You figure we would’ve learned by now. 

On Christmas they trailed Liverpool by eight points, with two games in hand, after losing (and failing to replace) the club’s captain and another long time starter. After the best midfielder in the world tore his hamstring off the bone just 20 minutes into the season, and after injuries and disciplinary decisions left John Stones and Rodri unable to play together in the league except for only a stretch of three games in October and November, they out scored their opponents 11-2 in those games by the way. 

Manchester City’s schedule for the next two months is appealing: Away at Newcastle United, Burnley, away at Brentford, Everton, Chelsea, and away at Bournemouth. 

There’s also a third round FA Cup match against Huddersfield Town, a possible fourth round tie should victory be secured against the Terriers, and the first-leg of the Champions League knock-outs against FC Copenhagen. Far from a murders row of opponents. 

Kevin De Bruyne is back in City’s matchday squad, Erling Haaland appears to be right behind them, Jeremy Doku continues his work towards a full recovery, and John Stones is currently somewhat of an unknown.

Pep Guardiola is the closest he’s been to a fully-fit squad at the absolute perfect time to go on a run that would cultivate with an early March title decider against none other than… Liverpool. 

There’s no guarantee Manchester City win a record fourth Premier League title in a row.  However, it’s been proven time and time again that it isn’t until this time of the year that City even begin to enter their final form. Now we just get to sit, watch and wait.