Individuals hooked on the horns of a dilemma can typically be forgiven for carrying expressions of bewilderment. That is the form of face Pep Guardiola has pulled efficiently greater than as soon as since his arrival in England a 12 months and a half in the past.
His time managing Manchester Metropolis has been studded with moments that counsel an absence of comprehension, whether or not provoked by an occasional media penchant for sturdy English tackling over his cultured pass-and-go or by fellow managers, who refuse to shed the heavy cloak of defensive cowl in direct fight along with his effervescent group.
The frown and shrug have by no means been distant throughout public appearances, as questions on Raheem Sterling’s imminent departure for Actual Madrid and Lionel Messi’s arrival in Manchester proceed to be solid in Guardiola’s path. The tittle-tattle of the each day press corps, eager to fill their pages with reactions to non-stories of this sort, should appear to be a lot wasted time and the Metropolis supervisor doesn’t spare the facial expressions in delivering his verdict.
This week he might be wanting pensive for one more motive. Within the chilly gentle of day, Guardiola is paid a wholesome wage to maintain his thoughts away from irrelevant reflections, however for Metropolis’s followers the away sport towards Shakhtar Donetsk throws up a doubt:
To protect Metropolis’s profitable streak, or at the very least stay unbeaten, or to wrap up the aspect’s star performers in cotton wool in anticipation of the battle of attrition that absolutely awaits them at Outdated Trafford this weekend.
The beautiful profitable run should finish sooner or later however, having reached 20 final weekend, it’s logical that each one involved want it to proceed. Nevertheless, Metropolis are starting to be squeezed a bit and 4 tight, edgy video games on the trot towards Feyenoord, Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham have taken their toll.
Although the wins simply preserve coming, the style of their supply has modified considerably. Gone are the objective avalanches of September’s waltzes towards shocked Stoke and caught-in-the-headlights Liverpool.
Now the margin is threadbare (4 one-goal victories on the bounce), the going powerful (late winners in all 4 video games) and the necessity for character and guts acute (coming from a objective behind in two of the 4).
With out the marauding Benjamin Mendy down the left and the aesthetic John Stones within the center, the defence can also be beneath strain, with groups abruptly questioning if there’s a chink of sunshine to be seen with the supply of excessive balls into the field from set items.
Whether or not the marginally troubled continuation of a 20-win streak may be mentioned to disclose a detectable dip in type is debatable, however a sure looseness, a form of slackening off, is obvious.
It is perhaps that this coincides with an identical, slight drift in type from Kevin De Bruyne, a month in the past talked of as a shoo-in for participant of the 12 months awards, now discovering it tough to difficulty these laser passes by way of a continuing wall of two rows of 4 opposing gamers. Momentary inaccuracies have additionally crept into David Silva’s sport within the face of the concerted blocking ways employed towards him.
It may also be that this coincides with Stones’ absence by way of damage. Though Nicolas Otamendi has carried out a sterling job of carrying the ball out of defence and has weighed in with essential objectives, too, his central defensive companion’s cool distribution and unflappable model had turn out to be one thing of an indicator of Guardiola’s new-look Metropolis.
Up on the pointy finish, Sergio Aguero’s scoring type, which carried him previous Eric Brook’s membership file, has slowed.
Among the many maelstrom of contributory elements, Metropolis now face conflicting urges: stay unbeaten for one more — admittedly meaningless — sport and preserve the run going, or wrap up those that might be thrown into the fray at Outdated Trafford subsequent weekend in cotton wool and threat defeat within the Ukraine? One thing, because the previous saying goes, has to present sooner or later.
Within the meantime, Napoli — hoping for a giant effort from Metropolis to help their very own possibilities — should wait and see. A Metropolis win would allow them to set one other file as the primary English aspect to win all six group video games.
The gamers and supervisor should put the derby out of their minds and deal with the duty at hand. As soon as Shakhtar have been handled, Guardiola’s expression might lighten a bit, as he fixes his view on what’s more likely to be his aspect’s largest check of the season to this point.
Simon is one in every of ESPN FC’s Manchester Metropolis bloggers. Comply with him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.