'I was not a good manager' - How Man City boss Guardiola went from spiky to serene under pressure

Pep Guardiola Manchester City 2021-22 Getty

For such a monumental fortnight, there has been something remarkably serene about Pep Guardiola's public appearances recently.

With a daunting run of fixtures against Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Atletico Madrid again and Liverpool again, that has the power to define Manchester City's season, it would be understandable if any interviews and press conferences were business-like.

Particularly as the City boss has occasionally been spiky in the past in similar circumstances.

However, despite the pressure of big games following big games, Guardiola more relaxed this time around, at least outwardly, making jokes or mischievously deflecting attention away from the serious matters.

A question about Manchester United target Erik Ten Hag being his potential successor at the Etihad Stadium saw him quip: "Do you want me to leave?"

On overthinking Champions League matches, his tongue-in-cheek reply was: "I love to overthink and create stupid tactics."

And against a notoriously hostile Madrid media, Guardiola was more reserved but did offer one playful comment over Diego Simeone's ultra-defensive tactics.

"In pre-history, today and in a 100,000 years, it is very difficult to attack a 5-5," he said. "There are no spaces."

Of course, such press-room tactics have served to defuse the tension surrounding City's intimidating, make-or-break run-in, as well as transmitting a sense of calm to the dressing room.

Ahead of the international break, City drew 0-0 with Crystal Palace after passing up a number of golden opportunities in front of goal that they would normally have taken.

Guardiola conceded that his side had grown anxious as the game wore on, even though they had stuck to their usual tactical strategy, meaning they continued to create chances.

In this week's 1-0 win over Atletico in the first leg of their quarter-final tie, openings were always going to be a premium and it was important that his players kept their cool.

The already infamous 5-5-0 system employed by Simeone was virtually impregnable, with City failing to have a shot on target in the first half.

However, after one free-kick on the edge of the box, Phil Foden finally crafted an opportunity for Kevin De Bruyne, with a clever turn and pass, and the Belgian kept his composure to slide the ball under Jan Oblak.

Aside from their defending, Atletico's notorious "dark arts" also tried to derail Guardiola's masterplan with one example the way in which defenders targeted Jack Grealish as someone they could wind up.

Sime Vrsaljko and Stefan Savic pulled his hair and Angel Correa blasted the ball at him from close range, and while Guardiola stepped in to break up the melee that followed, he warned his players that they cannot be drawn into petty arguments.

Now comes Liverpool on Sunday, when the stakes will be higher than ever.

Given both sides' ability to go on devastating winning streaks, it's possible that whoever finishes the game on top of the Premier League will not be caught.

For a coach like Guardiola, who prepares and analyses his opponent in astonishing detail, this fortnight could be punishing.

At previous clubs Barcelona and Bayern Munich, he would stay up until the early hours with his coaches, fretting over decisions and specific tactics.

The pressure in Germany to deliver the Champions League was huge, while in Spain he gave so much to the role that he eventually took a year out of the game to recover from the ordeal.

In one of the most revealing moments of City's Amazon documentary, meanwhile, Guardiola looked concerned when he and his staff discussed the threat of Liverpool's front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

Four years on, Jurgen Klopp's side has only got stronger.

But Guardiola is also older, turning 51 in January, and is trying to be kinder to himself, attempting to lower the stress he puts himself under before big matches.

He recently confessed that it didn't come naturally, but that he has leant on calming influences around him, believing it will make him a better coach.

"I'm learning to be more patient, before I was too anxious, I was not a good manager," he told Sky Sports in March. "Now, I'm better, I'm more patient.

"[The process] is so difficult because it is unnatural based on who I am, but I have people close to me that help me to be calmer. To see things like sometimes I couldn't see it."

It doesn't mean that any of the desire has been lost or the expectations on his players has been diminished.

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The City players will know that they will have to deliver on Sunday and that their discipline and understanding will have to be perfect.

And once the game kicks off, there will be the usual wild gestures coming from the City dugout as Guardiola directs his players.

The intensity will be there, but Guardiola will hope it will be accompanied by a calculated composure.