BREAKING NEWS: Manchester City sack PEP GUARDIOLA this morning after winning just one match out of his last six matches

BREAKING NEWS: Manchester City sack PEP GUARDIOLA this morning after winning just one match out of his last six matches


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Man City faced with frustrating form irony just as they look to win crown of world’s best team

Pep Guardiola’s team head for the Club World Cup semis on Tuesday and could be crowned the game’s finest side on Friday


Richard Jolly

Senior Football Correspondent

12 hours ago



<p>Manchester City dropped points yet again against Crystal Palace on Saturday</p>

Manchester City dropped points yet again against Crystal Palace on Saturday



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Manchester City have often been described as the best team in the world. The penultimate step to officially claiming that title falls on the 25th anniversary of a historic low. On 19 December 1998, City lost 2-1 to York: their fifth consecutive league game without a win left them 12th in the old Division 2, rendering them the 56th-best team in England. On 19 December 2023, they face Urawa Red Diamonds in the semi-final of the Club World Cup. Win then and only Fluminense or Al Ahly stand in their way in Friday’s final.


“Years ago we could not imagine to be there and we are there,” said Pep Guardiola. “I’m very pleased and excited to go there to try and win it.” It has been a remarkable rise, albeit one facilitated by about £2bn of investment from Sheikh Mansour and one clouded by 115 Premier League charges. But now, a quarter of a century after City were 15 points behind Walsall, City have one of the greatest managers in history and a treble only previously achieved by Manchester United in a season when their neighbours were a third-tier club.


Now they arrive in Saudi Arabia as favourites to retain both the Premier League and the Champions League. And yet, for a club on the brink of adding a fifth trophy of 2023 and an achievement that would symbolise a time of dominance, at something of a low.


A dejected Phil Foden, as Manchester City’s dismal run continued at the weekend



Their past shows City that all things are relative. Guardiola’s perfectionism is such that he was in unforgiving mood after they lost a two-goal lead to draw with Crystal Palace. “It’s not bad luck, it’s deserved,” he said. The first time a Guardiola City side had a claim to being the finest team on the planet, they only dropped 14 points all season. Now they have dropped 11 in the last six games, eight of them from winning positions against Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Palace. “In the last minutes when it was 2-1, we have to control it better,” rued Guardiola.


If City have lost a little control – and control is a prerequisite for Guardiola – they have gone to the Club World Cup in a curious position. For most, they are the team most likely to go on a run of 10 or 15 straight wins, but that theory is based on past seasons, not this one. They could become the first club to win the English title four years in a row, but they could be outside the top five before they play again.


The timing of the Club World Cup – in its current incarnation, anyway – means it sometimes features Champions League winners in decline, teams who peaked six months earlier. City may not be on a permanent slide but for now they are a worse side than in the spring.


Defensively, they have just three clean sheets in 22 games; in contrast, they did not let in more than one goal in any of their final 31 matches last season. Then Guardiola felt out-and-out defenders were the key to cutting out errors, but mistakes have abounded in recent weeks. The loss of John Stones for much of the season has been costly but in itself that is significant: City have looked more reliant on individuals.


A side that used to effortlessly juggle squad players now seems weakened by individual absences


(Getty Images)

Their 100 per cent losing record when Rodri has been suspended is a case in point. Drawing without the injured Erling Haaland against Palace owed plenty to defensive deficiencies and the Norwegian has missed the most big chances in the Premier League; yet a team who used to share the goals around feel more dependent on him. Only Haaland, Julian Alvarez and Phil Foden have more than four goals and the Argentinian has now gone eight league games without scoring.


It suggests Riyad Mahrez is being missed. The Algerian delivered 39 goals in his last two seasons at City, despite starting many of the bigger games on the bench. There is no doubt that Kevin de Bruyne is a grave loss: the Belgian registered 29 assists last season but, approaching the halfway stage, no one has more than seven now.


At least he will return – Ilkay Gundogan will not. The former captain and goalscorer also provided composure and control, with the class of his passing and his understated understanding of the tactics averting the kind of chaos City have experienced too often of late. With a sample size of 26 games, City have not been anything as like as good without Gundogan: apart from the Manchester derby, there has been no statement performance, no display comparable with last season’s wins over Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Liverpool, no 90-minute example of why they might be the world’s best.


Perhaps it was inevitable that, after climbing to the summit, after attaining excellence for years, standards would slip at some stage. But the irony may be that, as Manchester City set about finally acquiring the status of the top team on the planet, they are not playing like it.


More aboutPremier LeaguePep GuardiolaSaudi ArabiaClub World Cup

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