What’s been wrong with Manchester United over the past weeks?
Josep “Pep” Guardiola Sala is known throughout the soccer world for his success as a player and manager. As incredibly skilled and technically gifted as he was, his accolades as manager far outweigh those as a player. Guardiola has been coaching at the highest level for the last eight years, and he has done splendidly. In his four years coaching Lionel Messi and Barcelona, he amassed an astonishing 14 trophies in all competitions, being the youngest coach ever to win the Champions League, the highest league of play in Europe. In 2011, in only his third year as a first team manager, he was named the FIFA manager of the year and was awarded Catalonia’s highest honor, the Catalan Parliament’s Gold Medal. Guardiola won two trebles with Barcelona(a treble being any combination of three major trophies, for example winning La Liga the Spanish league, the Champions League, and the Copa del Rey(the premier tournament between every Spanish team in the country), and finished first in La Liga three out of his four years in the league. After a gilded term at Barcelona Guardiola left, and a year later signed with German powerhouse Bayern Munich. In his three years with the Bavarian team, he won the Bundesliga (Germany’s highest league)all three times and won the Champions League once. Guardiola will probably never have the success of the illustrious, if infamous, Sir Alex Ferguson, but he is nonetheless one of the greatest managers to ever coach. So why is it that Manchester City sits outside the top four, looking in from the number five spot?
Guardiola and Manchester City started the season at an incredible clip. Winning his first 10 games in all competitions with the club, City sat at the top of the table, two points clear in the table until early December. And suddenly, City started dropping games, first to Chelsea, then to Leicester, then Everton. The thought is that possibly City’s strong start under Guardiola was a fluke. After comparing the strong start to the last month and a half of play, it seems Pep might be out of his element. The Premier League in England is by no means the best, with only two teams winning the Champions League in the last eight years. Spain and Germany possess a clear leg up in the talent pool of players, but the Premier League no doubt gets the most attention around the world, and with all eyes watching, the pressure is certainly on. And that maybe has gotten to Guardiola, who has definitely had some questionable decisions so far. The decision that clearly stands out the most was to loan England’s national team starting goalkeeper Joe Hart and to pick former backup Claudio Bravo as the team’s new starter. Joe Hart, while prone to errors in the past, is no snub in goal, and has turned in many solid international appearances with a less than competitive English side in front of him.
Guardiola also seems to have moved some players around, most notably young Belgian Kevin de Bruyne. If that name sounds familiar, it should. He broke U.S. hearts in the 2014 World Cup by scoring the goal to seal the game for Belgium. Typically a winger, where most young midfielders start out, de Bruyne has been playing in the middle lately, and his production has dipped. As a young player, de Bruyne needs more space to effectively move the ball and gain more confidence in his game, something the middle of the field just doesn’t provide. When the ball is in possession it is easier for players to be closed down, as opponents can come from multiple angles to close passing lanes, whereas the outside allows a player to work with their fullbacks and to use the sideline to their advantage as well as their teammates in the middle, offering more outlets to continue developing the play.
Not all things are on Pep, though, as some problems are out of his control. An injury to former captain and starting center back Vincent Kompany has left the back four looking lackluster, and the team as a whole is clearly lost without the leadership of the longtime captain, giving up four goals last weekend to seventh place Everton, a team who only had 28 goals for before that game, 20 goals less than fourth place Arsenal. Kompany provides a wide variety of skill, as someone who can keep up with most forwards, has excellent game sense, and neutralizes any aerial threat a team might boast, essentially locking down the six-yard box on corner kicks and set pieces. Granted the Belgian is getting older and certainly isn’t what he used to be, his presence on the field is something that is clearly missed, and it doesn’t look like he’s coming back any time soon. Another issue out of Guardiola’s hands is the lack of success from star striker Sergio Kun Aguero. Aguero sits seventh in goals scored with 11, which is more than most players in the league. However Aguero won the Golden Boot(award for most goals in the season)just two years ago, and it would not be overly critical to ask more of the striker.
The season is little more than half over, and sitting in fifth place is not the worst place to be. But for a team like Manchester City, who has won the Premier League twice since 2012, fifth place after the halfway mark shouldn’t be acceptable, especially with the players they possess and the likes of Pep Guardiola at the helm. The Liverpool fan in me prays that the car crash continues, but the respect I have for Pep is too great to wish his untimely demise in England.