You might look at John Stones’s mistake preceding the concession of Burnley’s goal in the FA Cup third round on Saturday and use it as ammunition against Pep Guardiola and a stick with which to beat the player himself.
Laughable, can’t defend, Pep doesn’t know how to coach a back four; all that kind of stuff came flying out. But Pep Guardiola looks at that mistake – or more accurately – what followed that mistake and sees evidence that his Manchester City are in the process of emulating his all-conquering Barcelona and Bayern Munich teams.
“John Stones made a mistake for the first goal but that is not a problem,” said Pep.
“The problem is how he reacted to that mistake. Did he go down? He didn’t play anymore? He didn’t defend well? It was completely the opposite.
“And that is the most value for a team to create a step forward to the other ones.
“Another guy in that situation says: 'Don’t give me the ball I don’t want to play.' It was completely the opposite. That’s why I say 'chapeau'.
“Chapeau because that is the only way to make a step forward and create something good for that club for the next years.”
A mistake like that - and there’s no way of dressing it up, it was a dreadful error – gives the player, the coach and the club the opportunity to puff their chests out and attempt to overcome its consequences. And it is in this process of failing and learning that Guardiola believes champions are made.
It’s ridiculously premature to laud this City team but the day is coming when we will be able to reach out and touch their achievements. Predicting they’ll win the league is like predicting that all the sand will hit the other end of the hourglass.
After this defeat of Burnley they ensure that they remain in contention for all four competitions they entered this season. Give it another few months and there will be talk about which Pep team was the best – his Barca, his Bayern or his City?
“It’s tough for me to make comparisons about the past because it’s a different reality, different countries, different players,” said Pep about whether or not this team had yet acquired the same winning mentality as his previous squads.
“What we have done so far, we have had a good mentality for example against Southampton, West Ham and winning on big stages like Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford.”
The Bundesliga was such a doddle at times for Pep and Bayern Munich – remember they won it in March in his first season – that he could use league games to sketch out strategies to use in the latter stages of the Champions League. The German top flight was his petri dish.
He hinted after the cup win here that he is seeking to do that same even at this early stage when the Premier League season is barely past its midpoint.
The FA Cup might represent a very distant third in City’s list of priorities but it features the heart-stopping element of knockout competition.
“The players knew it was a knockout game,” he said. “If you win you are through if you lose you are at home. We want to continue in that prestigious competition like the FA Cup.
“If you are not strong you cannot do that and today was a good example.
“Because the Champions League is in one month and in one month this kind of situation we are going to live.”
It makes no sense to ditch trophy chases like Pep did last season in the League Cup. Winning begets winning but the consequences are mitigated should he try something and fail in either the FA Cup or the Carabao Cup.
That’s why you’ll see Oleksandr Zinchenko play left-back. That’s why you’ll see Ilkay Gundogan replace Kevin De Bruyne. Pep knows better than anyone that any number of variable factors can bite you in the backside come the late stages of the Champions League and he’s already thinking about that.
In it he’s had to deal with injuries and suspensions. One year he had to deal with a volcanic ash cloud. The more football, the better the preparedness.
Here it’s not like Barca or Bayern. In his preferred starting XI, he has no players with the experience of winning the Champions League as he did in Catalonia and Bavaria. His boys are learning on the job and don’t have a Lionel Messi or a Manuel Neuer to look up to. They are learning it for themselves; feeling fear, making mistakes but growing ever more confident and filling up on a sense of invincibility.
And that’s why the job Pep’s done so far at City ranks with anything he’s achieved in his previous jobs. More than any other coach in the world – perhaps bar Jose Mourinho – Pep has haters and knockers and begrudgers.
There is a line of argument that runs that he should be put in with a mediocre club like a Stoke City or an Everton to test just how good he is. That is insane. He is the best so, naturally, he works best with the best players. Nobody is asking Lewis Hamilton to prove himself in a Subaru Impreza.
Well, haters, this is the closest Pep is going to get to coaching a team who didn’t have it all and weren’t primed for supremacy when he took over. So drink it in.
He has assembled a squad of players who – man for man and without his unique touch – are scarcely any more able or talented than a Chelsea or a Manchester United. But Pep has taken his team to those two grounds this season and won handsomely. He is making his players better than they were. And that is why Guardiola is the best.
The detractors will say it was easy for him at Barcelona because he had the holy trinity of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. That in itself is a false assertion because Barca were failing when he got there. But anyway that train of thought persists.
Bundesliga? Bayernliga they say. How could he fail to take a treble-winning team to the German title when his team was so much richer and more talented than any other in the league and could snare any of the competition’s best players when they felt like it?
To a section of observers, there has always been a qualification to his successes. What if he didn’t have Messi? What if Bayern actually had some decent competition? Well, now he’s proving it beyond doubt to those who didn’t already know.
Barca and Bayern may well have had fully functioning academies supplying player after player schooled and finished in the right way but City don’t. There were no readymade talents ready to step in.
This was not a one-team league but he’s making it look like one - despite the presence of some of the world’s most talented coaches and some of the world’s richest clubs alongside him.
His football is so progressive and dominant and suffocating and the outcome of the season such a foregone conclusion that the most recent point of criticism has been the source of City’s money. Mourinho even had a pop at his yellow ribbon. For anything happening on the pitch, no one can lay a glove on him.
This is a man who leaves an indelible stain wherever he goes. In 2010 Spain won the World Cup with six of Pep’s title-winning Barcelona players in their starting lineup for the final. One of his players got the winner. In 2014 Germany won the World Cup with six of Pep’s title-winning Bayern Munich players in their starting lineup for the final. One of his players got the winner.
He is transforming the landscape wherever he lands.
Come to England, we’ll see how good you are. They dared him and now they know.