Guardiola again pondering April falls as City run out of steam

At a time when his rampant sides are expected to roar over the finish line, Pep Guardiola's teams increasingly come unstuck.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola   -  Getty Images

The late George Best used to like to tell a story that involved a champagne waiter arriving at his hotel room and, upon seeing the Manchester United great accompanied on his bed by a former Miss World and thousands of pounds of casino winnings, asking: "George, where did it all go wrong?"

Manchester's footballing heroes tend to come without the debauchery nowadays, with recovery shakes rather than sparkling wine. Pep Guardiola is more likely to be surrounded by frantically sketched tactical plans than bank notes and supermodels in the small hours of the morning.

Nevertheless, as the exasperated Manchester City manager addressed a post-match news conference on Tuesday, concluding a bruising six days for his excellent side, there was a sense he shared Best's sentiments

"We made 10 months, my friend, amazingly," Guardiola replied when asked whether he or his players bore the main responsibility for a run of three consecutive defeats that leave City out of the Champions League and without the rubber stamp on their long-anticipated Premier League triumph.

A breathtaking first-half performance yielded a solitary goal against Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp's men picked off their opponents for a 2-1 win in Manchester and a 5-1 aggregate triumph, the damage City sustained at Anfield last week proving too great to overcome.

In between those reverses, Manchester United came back from 2-0 down to defeat a criminally wasteful City 3-2 in Saturday's derby. Victory would have secured the Premier League at the hands of their bitter rivals and Guardiola's desire to look at the bigger picture was understandable, given the ugly unfolding of events from his latest vantage point.

"I would say the exception is going 10 months, just losing the odd game, and winning, winning, winning. That is exceptional," said the man whose team still sit 13 points clear at the Premier League summit, needing two wins from their remaining six to be sure of glory, and with the EFL Cup secured.

"Just try to analyse game by game. You see the statistics. I'm sorry, but we win the season in statistics. In this week, okay, we lost three games and have to recover."

Of course, the problems Guardiola faces – if you can call them that with a straight face – are ones most coaches in the game would welcome with a hearty chuckle. But he isn't most coaches; he is a tactician wholly in-thrall to a compelling football vision that has delivered brilliant teams and trophies wherever he has been.

When those are the standards you set yourself, uncomfortable questions follow if the big games go awry with any kind of frequency. Unfortunately for Guardiola, a pattern has been established since he lifted his second Champions League crown with Barcelona in 2011.

The seven days in April 2012 that featured a Clasico loss to Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid - with title consequences far greater than United's weekend heist – in between a luckless Champions League semi-final defeat to Chelsea bear the most obvious parallels to City's sapping slump in terms of rivals and timeframe.

From the end of March in 2014, Guardiola's Bayern Munich won four of 10 matches in all competitions, culminating in Real Madrid's 4-0 semi-final romp at the Allianz Arena.

The following season, a penalty shoot-out loss to Klopp's Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal preceded four defeats in the next five games. The only win, 3-2 against Barcelona, was not enough to turn around another Champions League last-four deficit.

The caveat with the Bayern wobbles are they began once the Bundesliga title had been wrapped up, so some drop-off was perhaps inevitable. But City are champions in all but name and have been for months, meaning their Liverpool reverse feels similar to the ones Guardiola suffered in Bavaria.

"Did you find one team who played 11 months with the same rhythm and the same pace in these amount of games?" He fired back in one spiky but not ill-tempered exchange on Tuesday. "It is almost impossible.

"Maybe in the future I will realise what is the tricky point to be better."

Of the XI that so thrillingly went for Liverpool's jugular, only David Silva and Fernandinho were older than 30, while six members of the City side were 24 or younger. There is plenty of improvement to come under a coach who specialises in rapid player development.

But the tricky point unquestionably arrives for Guardiola in April, with domestic matters in hand but not enough in the tank for the final European push. It has become a stain on his almost peerless reputation. If he can master the art of peaking at just the right time, the champagne will taste that little bit sweeter.

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