Pep Guardiola began his life as Manchester City manager with a 10 game winning streak in all competitions. The title seemed destined for no other destination than the blue half of England’s third largest city.
City were expected to steam-roll the lowly Celtic in Pep’s eleventh game. Yet the Glaswegians earned a 3-3 draw that night and Man City have not been the same since.
Ironically Brendan Rogers has emerged as an unlikely candidate for manager of the year with his domestically unbeaten Celtic side currently 25 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership, while Pep Guardiola’s first season in England has been wildly derided.
Yet that is not to say Guardiola’s first season has been a failure. Ground-work has been laid that could lead to success in the coming few years.
The Catalonian inherited an ageing side that had not tasted success for two full seasons. The rapidity in which they fell apart in the back half of last season almost ensured a first foray into the Europa League for Pep.
Teasing out great performances from these frequently temperamental players is a difficult prospect, and one in which Guardiola has succeeded more often than he has been given credit for this year.
This is on top of trying to introduce an entirely new system of playing to the club. With all that considered, City have done well this year.
Silverware via the FA Cup is still a strong possibility. They might even have been contenders for more trophies if they could stop conceding goals for a few minutes.
It almost goes without saying that City’s defence has been suspect this season. No club should score six goals over two legs and still find themselves knocked out of the Champions League, and yet City managed just that.
Which is not to say that Guardiola’s system is unworkable. Bayern Munich won three titles on the trot using exactly the same structure of defence.
The difference is the calibre of player available to both teams. In Philip Lahm and David Alaba, Guardiola had access to some of the best full-backs in the world at Bayern.
Kolorov, Zabaleta, Sagna and Clichy are all very much past their prime. John Stones may yet be a great defender one day, but right now he needs a quality experienced player beside him.
These problems will likely be rectified with a big summer clear-out, and in all fairness to Guardiola, he did attempt to sign Hector Bellerín in the summer only to be rebuffed.
A new goalkeeper is also required. Guardiola was not wrong to decide Joe Hart did not have the footballing ability to fit into his possession based system.
Yet Claudio Bravo has not been an adequate replacement. How Bravo went from being an important part of a Barcelona treble and back-to-back Copa America titles for Chile to his current shambolic state is difficult to comprehend.
If the right calibre of defenders can be brought into the fold over the summer, then City will be a force to be reckoned with next season.
Their attacking force is fearsome and, importantly, quite young. De Bruyne, Sané, Sterling and Gabriel Jesus are of enough quality to carry the team forward for at least the next five years.
Guardiola’s first season in England has not been a great success. Failing to adequately challenge for the title is a poor showing, but in all fairness City have been guilty of that failing for three years now.
Yet Champions League qualification looks relatively secure, and just two more victories would net them the FA Cup. One cannot argue Guardiola’s first season has been a failure.
This season has been a mixed bag that may yet serve as a spring-board to greatness next year. Whatever else Guardiola’s blues have definitely had a better season, and built better foundations for the future, than Mourinho’s tepid reds.