‘Struggling’ Manchester City leave Pep Guardiola with title headache

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola gestures on the touchline during their Premier League football match against Chelsea. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola gestures on the touchline during their Premier League football match against Chelsea. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP

Published Dec 7, 2023


Pep Guardiola admits "struggling" Manchester City's unexpected stumble in the Premier League title race has left him searching for solutions to the champions' problems.

Guardiola's side crashed to a lacklustre 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa on Wednesday as their winless run in the league extended to four matches.

City are languishing in fourth place, six points behind leaders Arsenal and four adrift of second-placed Liverpool.

After successive draws with Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham raised alarm bells about City's title prospects, Guardiola had defiantly claimed this week that his team would definitely win the Premier League.

But the Spaniard changed his tune after Villa rocked the treble winners with the kind of dynamic display that has been City's trademark throughout Guardiola's reign.

"It is my duty, it is my job to find a way to come back. Many years now we are together and we are able to find a way to win games," Guardiola said.

"We know what's our level and as a manager we have to find a way to win. We're struggling a bit. I'm here to help them.

"We didn't have the feeling that we are going to do something and we missed it. We have to accept it when a team is better and recognise it."

City's mini-crisis has blown the title race wide open and Guardiola's acknowledgement that there are issues to resolve will give further encouragement to their rivals.

So what can Guardiola do to get City back on track?

One of the keys to their bid for an unprecedented fourth successive top-flight crown is the Spaniard's ability to motivate his players after so much success in recent years.

As their performances have swung between exceptional and erratic this term, Guardiola has conceded there might be a hangover from the incredible treble triumph.

Fixing that issue is essential because Arsenal and Liverpool, both playing with intensity and energy this season, look like formidable foes.

'The results are not good'

City looked drained for much of their chastening trip to Villa Park on Wednesday, a problem exacerbated by Guardiola's preference for a relatively small squad.

But there is little respite for his weary stars, with a trip to Saudi Arabia for the FIFA Club World Cup looming before the hectic Christmas schedule.

As well as trying to revive the mental and physical health of his players, Guardiola has tactical issues to tweak.

For the first time since 2017, City have gone four Premier League games without a win and their unusually creaky defence has been a major factor in that decline.

With Croatia defender Josko Gvardiol slow to adapt after his move from RB Leipzig and John Stones absent due to injury before returning at Villa, City have conceded 17 goals in their first 15 Premier League matches for the first time since 2009-10.

They faced 22 shots against Villa in a clear indication of their defensive flaws, with the absence of the suspended Rodri in midfield another significant headache for Guardiola.

City have lost all four matches Rodri without this season, going unbeaten in their last 43 with him in the team.

"Without Rodri we could not win against Liverpool and Spurs. Of course Rodri is so important but when Rodri is not there we have to find a way to do it," Guardiola said.

City are also missing the creative inspiration provided by injured Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.

They attempted just two shots against Villa, which ranked as the fewest by a Guardiola team in a league game in his managerial career.

"I said (to the players) 'I know you tried, I know you want it, you have proven it to me many times'," Guardiola said.

"Now the results are not good, that's why I have to see the games, reflect, and see how we try to do it.

"We have to change the dynamic on Sunday at Luton."

Writing off City has been a foolish move in recent years, but Guardiola has little margin for error if they are to extend their reign as the Premier League's preeminent force.