Crisis at Man City
Pressure mounts on Pep as early season confidence has been eroded by self-doubt
ROUND OF 16
MAN UNITED 1
(Juan Mata 54)
MAN CITY 0
Pep Guardiola has never underestimated Jose Mourinho's influence on his own career.
For better and worse, the Manchester United manager has helped fashion the Catalan into the coach who stands before the world by remaining a key part of his conscience.
Perched on the opposing shoulder to his counterpart's footballing ideologies, Mourinho often reprises the role of the devil - a permanent reminder of Guardiola's mortality.
Yesterday morning (Singapore time), he was again struck by that realisation as Manchester City surrendered their status as League Cup holders, virtually whimper-free, following a 1-0 defeat by United.
Mourinho may be extolling his misery at being semi-permanently holed up in a local hotel, but can temporarily placate himself for getting one over on his long-standing nemesis after a sporadic start to his debut season in charge at Old Trafford.
This is uncharted territory for Guardiola.
Man City boss Pep Guardiola. PHOTO: REUTERS
The three-time Champions League winner has previously never had to endure six successive games as a manager without a victory.
Even his previous record - a five-game streak at the tail end of Barcelona's treble-winning campaign of 2008/09 - did not carry the weight of pressure which currently threatens to lay siege to the skies overhead at the Etihad Stadium.
That happened earlier in the season as his wait for a maiden La Liga win threatened to creep into a third consecutive match.
Such was the mounting pressure Guardiola faced that it prompted Johan Cruyff to issue an impassioned defence in a newspaper column.
This time, however, there is no safety blanket to which he can cling.
The godfather of the Nou Camp had been a lone voice in sparing his protege from being jettisoned during his nascent playing and coaching careers, but even the late Dutchman's words of wisdom may have struggled to stave off this current predicament.
Fashioned in his own image, Guardiola's teams often carry the swagger of a runway model on parade at New York Fashion Week, but City appeared so off-key that they failed to register a single shot on target for the first time in over five seasons.
It is a far cry from events of just five weeks ago when, fresh from overcome a stern test in Swansea City on Sept 24, his side appeared to be strolling at pace towards a third English Premier League title in six seasons with minimal opposition.
Since then, they have lost not only their way but also credibility.
Confidence has been superseded by mistakes and self-doubt, underpinned by John Stones' erroneous back-pass during a home draw with Southampton last weekend which saw City's fiercely loyal supporters officially end Guardiola's honeymoon period.
Fielding a second-string line-up - if one boasting the likes of Leroy Sane, Jesus Navas and Nicolas Otamendi can be considered under-strength - at Old Trafford sent out a message that the League Cup, even as holders, has become incidental this season.
Whether Mourinho shares his opposite number's dimmed view of priorities remains to be seen as United prepare to head into next month's quarter-final with West Ham.
Uncharacteristically gracious in an overdue first victory over Guardiola since April 2012, mild contrition rather than wild celebration occupied the Portuguese's demeanour.
Fans received a gestured apology for the 4-0 humbling at Chelsea and Mourinho appeared more sedate than at any point since his return to English football.
Finally stumbling upon a tactical happy medium, following the trials and tribulations of deploying all-or-nothing tactics in United's previous two games, had finally worked.
It was hardly the spellbinding brand of football that Sir Alex Ferguson had once preached, but Mourinho's in-game management finally appears to be capable of equilibrium.
Within 19 minutes of scoring the decisive opener, Juan Mata found himself withdrawn in favour of Morgan Schneiderlin and a more cautious, defensive-minded approach.
It was a classic Mourinho tactic, albeit far removed from the brand of football which United had once become accustomed.
In his eyes, holding out for a 1-0 win will always suffice over the more adventurous approach of going for goals in his eyes.
At least one manager currently residing in the heart of Manchester would have slept soundly.
I'm proud of the young players and how they played. at that level you need to be more clinical with the last pass but it’s difficult against United. We are happy. i want to try to win but now we’ll focus on the next competitions.
— Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
BY THE NUMBERS
Since his debut in January 2014, Juan Mata has been involved in 47 of Manchester United’s goals (29 goals, 18 assists), a tally bettered only by Wayne Rooney (58).