Guardiola at a loss as Man City are torn apart again

The Catalan had changed his approach after the last time his side were humbled away from home and it had produced an up-turn in form


It had appeared Pep Guardiola had come up with a way to put a stop to these humbling afternoons for Manchester City. Emphatically, that is not the case.

Guardiola sets unwanted record

City put in a perfectly good first-half performance at Goodison Park on Sunday but found themselves 1-0 down at half-time. Not a disaster. After their recent improvements it was back to the frustrating days of October and November for Guardiola, when City would dominate matches but fail to take their chances and concede from one or two efforts on goal.

But while those performances - against Everton, Middlesbrough and, to a lesser extent, Southampton at home - produced draws, City completely caved in here after losing 4-0.

After starting so well things quickly went downhill and, by the end, this was reminiscent of the Leicester shambles, when City were 2-0 down inside four minutes and went on to lose 4-2, a scoreline which flattered them. That result, coming a week after the Blues lost at home to Chelsea, despite a much better performance, told Guardiola things had to change.

Out went the complex systems that demanded City’s defenders to switch between a three, four or five-man defence depending on the circumstances of the game, and in came a stable back four.

With it came an admission from Guardiola, in as many words, that his defenders could not quite handle his tactical demands. He has said their mistakes were his mistakes, but there has been a realisation that he was asking too much, too soon.

City’s record since Leicester, heading into Sunday’s game at Everton, read five wins and three clean sheets from six games. Those matches did not provide the kind of possession football Guardiola wants but it was enough to get his side back on track.

’Davies has pulled Pep’s pants down’

But now it’s all come crashing down again.

Leicester, Arsenal, Burnley and now Everton have all scored against City with their first shot on target, and all in the last seven games.

Why now? It is certainly ironic that this is a recent trend, given you would have expected that to be the case throughout October and November, and not since they tightened up at the back.

Against Arsenal they recovered after allowing Theo Walcott to dance through after five minutes and score, but they could not lay a glove on Liverpool after Georginio Wijnaldum’s eighth-minute opener.

Everton did not strike early at Goodison Park on Sunday and that will be all the more galling for Guardiola. City had a firm grip on the game, were passing the ball out from the back well, and were creating decent, although rarely gilt-edged, chances.

But then Gael Clichy gave the ball away, Everton progressed down the right and Romelu Lukaku got away from Nicolas Otamendi to fire past Claudio Bravo.

Aguero went within inches of converting Kevin De Bruyne’s third excellent left-footed cross of the afternoon and that, in hindsight, proved crucial.

Everton scored two minutes after the break and that was that. It was also their second goal from their second shot. Then they scored their third goal from their third shot. Adeloma Lookman’s goal for the fourth was not Everton’s fourth shot of the afternoon, but it was the 14th time Bravo has conceded from the last 22 shots on target he has faced.

Bravo was not at fault for the first today but, in the bigger picture, it doesn’t really matter. There is a distinct feeling that the Chilean simply does not save shots. In one-on-one situations he seems to do the opposite to what every great goalkeeper has ever done: rather than making himself bigger, he seems to shrink. For regular shots, he never seems to get close.

He was the only change from the squad that beat West Ham in the FA Cup last week, coming in for Willy Caballero, but he could soon find himself back out of the side.

Not that he should be scapegoated, or that he is the only culprit. City’s defenders are capable of individual mistakes or lapses in concentration, and collectively they are too often exploited, looking a mess in the process. It was the case for the second goal here, long before Guardiola went for it by bringing on Kelechi Iheanacho for Pablo Zabaleta, a deep-lying midfielder in the absence of Ilkay Gundogan, Fernando and Fernandinho.

What will most concern Guardiola now is that he had seemed to find a remedy. He wants to go back to his more complex systems, but only when he gets in new defenders. The defence that had held up comparatively well in recent weeks may not have allowed him to achieve what he really wants to in the Premier League, but it had seemed enough for a respectable run to the end of the season, even if Chelsea do run away with the title.

But this is another damaging afternoon and it is unlikely to be the last. The Everton fans sang “you’re getting sacked in the morning” by the end, and while that is by no means the case, Guardiola still faces an ignominious few days - maybe weeks or months.

After the match he said this kind of result and performance has been a common theme of City's season, but it seemed a thing of the past.

This is clearly his biggest challenge as a manager and, after the most damaging league defeat of his career, he needs to come up with the answers - again.