Just a few weeks ago, everything seemed to be going perfectly for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. He silenced many of his critics last year by leading City to the most dominant domestic season ever seen in England. And this season, they looked to be carrying on just as well despite injuries to various key players. However, after three defeats in the last five league matches, Thursday’s clash against Liverpool could define Manchester City’s season and even Pep Guardiola’s reputation as a manager since leaving Barcelona.
Going into the match seven points behind Liverpool, defeat for City likely means the end of their title aspirations. Even a draw would still leave them hanging by a very thin thread. Although Liverpool have let leads slip before, a seven or ten point deficit to a team that has only dropped six points in its first twenty matches seems impossible for even this City side to overcome.
Despite all the fanfare surrounding City’s title win last season, failing to retain that crown would give Pep the exact same record as Pellegrini and Mancini with one league title in three full seasons. Unless they managed to offset that by winning the Champions League, Pep’s trophy cabinet at City would look little different to that of his two less celebrated predecessors. Pep has clearly brought an improvement in the style of City’s play and their points tallies over Mancini or Pellegrini. However, he also came with a much higher reputation and had the advantage of spending more and taking over City when they were further along in their project. Although his success last season makes it wrong to call Pep’s City tenure a failure regardless of what happens in the coming months, not winning either major trophy this campaign would make it difficult to call it a success either. Given how difficult it is to win the Champions League, the result of Thursday’s match against Liverpool could end up being decisive in how Pep’s time at City is judged after the season.
Although it is impossible to dispute Pep’s success at Barcelona or the style of football his teams play, City’s league season last year is probably his only major accomplishment since leaving the Catalan club in 2012. His time at Bayern certainly had its perks, but taking over a treble winning team and failing to even reach a final over three seasons is hard to call a success for a manager of Guardiola’s status. Thursday’s result could against Liverpool could thus help decide whether not winning the Champions League with Bayern is a minor blip of an illustrious career or the start of a pattern for a manager who does not quite meet expectations at either of his first two jobs since leaving Barcelona.