Pep Guardiola feeling the heat of the Premier League kitchen

Manager discovering English football very different from Spanish of German version

 Pep Guardiola:  delivered a series of abrupt interviews after  10-man Manchester City side ground out a fractious win over Burnley. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Pep Guardiola: delivered a series of abrupt interviews after 10-man Manchester City side ground out a fractious win over Burnley. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

 

The FA Cup arrives like the cavalry at the weekend to interrupt an engrossing title race and temporarily shelve Pep Guardiola’s rhetorical question about whether or not Manchester City are in it.

To judge by their last couple of games City cannot be certain of a Champions League place at the end of the season, let alone first place, and this realisation appears to have dawned on their manager during his televised press conferences.

Tetchy Pep has been a diverting sideshow over the last few weeks but in his post-match interview with the BBC, after the new year bank holiday fixture against Burnley, the manager’s dissatisfaction with just about everything English was plain to see.

English referees keep sending off his players, then English reporters will make the situation worse by asking if City have a discipline problem.

English opponents make life difficult for his goalkeeper at corners in a way that would not be allowed anywhere else in the world. English teams play too many games in too short a time around the turn of the year and, Guardiola only mentions this two or three times a week, the English system somehow allows Chelsea and Liverpool to fight for the title even though they do not have to play in Europe.

All things considered, Guardiola is not a happy man at the moment.

Neither is Jürgen Klopp, whose efforts to catch Chelsea were hindered when his side could only manage a draw at Sunderland, though at least the Liverpool manager mostly railed against the stupidity of a fixture programme that sent his players to the north-east less than 48 hours after their previous game.

Liverpool actually came unstuck by conceding two penalties and when he calms down Klopp will accept that and move on.

Aesthetic style

Guardiola, on the other hand, appears to be getting stuck on the idea that everything in England is set up so that a gleeful public can rejoice in his failure.

City actually passed the Stoke City test with flying colours back in August, coming away from the Bet365 Stadium with an impressive 4-1 win, although in Guardiola’s mind at least all those predictions that his aesthetic style would not be sufficiently robust for the English game are now playing out as self-fulfilling prophesies.

He has a point about the absurdity of the festive fixtures, of course, but so does every other manager. It is the new arrivals in the country who find the English habit of building a crisis into a constitution so difficult to understand, and particular sympathy should go to Claude Puel and Southampton, who ended up with three games in six days.

Klopp’s breezy pre-Christmas confidence, when he said the festive programme was silly but at least it was the same for everybody, did not survive a couple of setbacks at Sunderland and was based on a false premise anyway.

All too clearly the festive programme was not the same for everybody.

Southampton had to play three times in six days, Liverpool three times in seven days, while the burden on Chelsea is a relatively normal three games in 10 days, all without leaving London.

If English football insists on doing Christmas and new year differently to everyone else, if it imagines a steeplechase-type spectacle is somehow character-building at the halfway point of the season, it really should do more to make certain that the demands made on each team are as equal as possible.

At the moment, particularly with games involving leading sides being switched for television, the festive programme is too much of a lottery. One can understand coaches from other leagues failing to appreciate the novelty – and apparently next season’s festive list is even more demanding.

Particular novelty

He has limited experience of that sort of situation – and it is beginning to show. He is not enjoying England and that is beginning to show, too.

Just as City would not have expected to be so far behind Chelsea at this stage of the season, with seven red cards, key players continually being suspended and a manager unable or unwilling to discuss disciplinary matters, so Guardiola must be trying to work out how he can turn around such a difficult position.

At Barcelona and Bayern Munich, dominant teams in their leagues, his players always appeared to do exactly what their coach wanted. At least that was the impression from outside and one can only assume that was what City thought they were buying into.

Yet City’s players seem in some way resistant to Guardiola’s ideas and influence. This group of players does its own thing, often to the evident frustration of the coach on the sidelines. Against Chelsea, City had been out of control, their inability to stay with the leaders spilling over into petulant spite once the match had been won.

At Liverpool they were too passive and ineffective, against Burnley at home Fernandinho at least was so fired-up he was dismissed before half-time.

What could Guardiola say to explain such inconsistency? No wonder he chose to concentrate on an alleged foul on Claudio Bravo in the build-up to Burnley’s goal. “I’ve seen it back, it’s just a goal,” his opposite number, Sean Dyche, said.

Guardiola will continue to disagree, although had he been in a position to watch Jeff Stelling and co on Sky as the goal was scored he might have found it a useful aid to his English education. No one in the studio mentioned a foul on the goalkeeper. The opinion instead was that Bravo had not dealt with the cross very well.

There are no special rules in England, as Guardiola rather ludicrously suggested. But, (who knew?) there are a lot of crosses.

Guardian Service

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