Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City almost certainly won’t win the Premier League title this season.
Nevertheless, they remain one of the most celebrated and critically-acclaimed teams of the last generation.
They did, after all, break the 100-point barrier in the top-flight and pipped a Liverpool team that lost just one league game all season to the title in 2019-20.
There was, of course, scrutiny on Guardiola when he arrived in 2016. He had managed one of the most beloved club sides of all time in Barcelona, and won a ridiculous amount of trophies while doing it. He had unlocked Lionel Messi’s potential and made him the greatest player in the world. He had taken tiki-taka to unfathomable heights.
Would it work in England? It was a question that needed answering.
Whenever he did fall at the hands of typical, frantic, explosive English football, the response was almost gleeful. Guardiola refused to lavish too much praise on the Premier League but defeats at the hands of rapid counter-attacking sides left nothing more to say, in the eyes of some.
The first such example came in December 2016, when Leicester tore them apart on the counter-attack. The Foxes’ 4-2 win was inspired by a Jamie Vardy hat-trick but Claudio Bravo and Aleksandar Kolarov in particular provided shambolic resistance.
The vultures had started to circle at that stage and Pep’s admission that he doesn’t get his players to work on tackling was held up as further proof that he just didn’t ‘get’ English football.
Yet, Leicester were still reigning champions and still in the Champions League, which allowed Guardiola and City a small amount of grace.
So, just over a month later, the Spaniard’s Etihad reign reached its nadir and this time, there was no place to hide.
Back in January 2017, his fifth-placed City side travelled to Merseyside to face Ronald Koeman’s Everton looking to go within seven points of leaders Chelsea. Bravo was still between the sticks but Kolarov had been dropped in favour of Gael Clichy.
Ageing duo Yaya Toure – who had recently patched up his differences with Pep – and Pablo Zabaleta were in midfield.
As you would expect, City dominated the ball but Everton were tenacious, energetic and clinical. They were everything their visitors weren’t and the struggles of Bravo gave Guardiola’s side no chance of masking the cracks.
Everton scored with their first shot of the game, through Romelu Lukaku, and then with every shot on target thereafter as Kevin Mirallas netted just after half-time to puncture any City hopes of a revival – before two young English starlets took over.
Tom Davies had desire and energy that City’s creaking midfield could not match all afternoon and when he burst between the lines on 79 minutes, it became clear that their defence couldn’t live with him either.
The academy prospect produced a sumptuous chip, his first goal for the club, to provide the moment of the match and send Goodison wild. There was still time for Ademola Lookman to add a fourth and City had been roundly beaten. They were now surely out of the title race.
Throughout his entire time in this country, never has Guardiola looked more ill at ease with the demands of English football.
City were punch-drunk and shell-shocked, and so was Pep.
Guardiola’s critics have never been louder than they were after City’s last visit to Goodison. They have been quiet for quite some time, however.