Manchester City have not won any of their last three games. You would probably have been laughed at had you suggested that three or four weeks ago. They were appointed Champions elect in September, it seemed, with the Premier League an apparent procession for Pep Guardiola’s side. A stunning Manchester derby performance lit up European football and the decimation of Borussia Monchengladbach reflected a team that could dominate in Europe too.
It has all changed rather rapidly since then. Failure to beat Celtic, defeat to Tottenham and a draw with a Maarten Stekelenburg-inspired Everton followed a less than convincing win over Swansea and there is a whiff of mortality about Manchester City. In many ways, a dip in form was inevitable. The panache with which City started the season was unlikely to be sustainable, but their current run was not foreseen.
Now they head to the Camp Nou to face one of the greatest teams on the planet. Luckily for Guardiola, Manchester City are in that same category this season. A defence that is yet to look entirely lock tight now has to deal with Luis Suarez, Neymar and the Greatest Footballer Ever. This Barcelona team is markedly contrasting to Guardiola’s magnificent side a few years ago, how the Spaniard sets up to restrict the impact of the magical attacking triumvirate will be intriguing.
With success, expectation is elevated. Guardiola arrived in England knowing that Manchester City and the rest of the footballing world expected miracles. Winning at least one major trophy in his first season is the barometer of success, even with a young, rebuilt squad. The early form of Manchester City, both domestically and in the Champions League, heightened these projections if anything.
Now only atop of the Premier League table by goal difference with three teams within two points of them, the idea that it would be a stroll to lift the trophy seems a distant memory. The early hype surrounding a strongly starting team is an annual occurrence, it is so often misplaced. Manchester City are still favourites for the title and will probably go on to win it, but their weaknesses have been brought to the fore by their recent opponents.
One game with Barcelona in mid-October cannot end Manchester City’s season, but another unfavourable result will certainly see the pressure cranked up for the return game. With a Manchester derby in the EFL Cup approaching too, Guardiola must find a way to return his side to the same clinical unit that looked so unstoppable only a month or so ago. The narrative around Guardiola’s return to Barcelona will be the main story before both fixtures, but they have the potential to be two of 2016/17’s best matches.