Pep Guardiola finds himself in new territory heading into Thursday’s Manchester derby. For the first time in his career he is approaching the end of a season polishing up on excuses rather than silverware.
Whatever the merits of Guardiola’s list of mitigating circumstances for his first trophyless campaign - a lack of clinical edge and refereeing blunders have been the most repeated – the manager who arrived at City as the anointed one hasbeen momentarily demoted to the ranks of mere mortals.
Champions League qualification will be a significant consolation, and victory over Manchester United on Thursday would surely secure it, but it will not disguise what has been a broadly underwhelming debut campaign in English football. “I have been managing for nine years and this is my first year without a trophy,” said Guardiola.
“Sometimes it has to happen and it happens now. If I extend my career a lot in the future I am sure it will happen again but there are a lot of big clubs in Europe without a trophy.
“If you analyse the trophies, how many were we able to win this year? Zero. It’s easy to analyse. It’s simple like that. If you analyse how many titles was good or not good then the season was not good.
“The most important thing is to analyse the reason why we weren’t able to compete in the Premier League and then make decisions. It’s the only way we can improve.
“What mistakes we did in the way we work, in the players we have, in the players we miss, in which games we lose, and the way we lose, and what we need to improve, after that take a decision, that’s the only way.
“I tried to introduce the players to the way we play, and in my cases we did it. Some we were not able. We were not consistent. We are one of the teams who have created the most chances and the team who conceded few. I’m quite satisfied by what we have done. “
The high watermark of City’s Premier League campaign was their first half display at Old Trafford last September, when most observers felt they were watching the future champions secure a 2-1 win.
Guardiola insists the difference that day was the end product rather than performance.
“During the season we played many, many games at the same level or even better than that level,” he insisted.
“In Old Trafford we arrived (in the box) two or three times in the first half and we scored two goals. We arrived more and didn’t score (in other games).
“The first time they arrived, they scored a goal. I remember that after Ibrahimovic scored to make it 2-1, the first half could have finished 3-2 for United.
“My feeling is that in the box we weren’t good enough but we played the way we did in the first half in Manchester many times.
“We should analyse game by game what happened this season. The results are fact but the way we played every game we should talk about.
“We have six games left - four at the Etihad - so our qualification for the Champions League depends on our games at home. I think we’ll be able to qualify for the Champions League. I am optimistic. I am so proud of my players, and what we are doing and even how we played the last game at Wembley. I don’t have regrets. I don’t have complaints.”
On the managerial rivalry with Jose Mourinho, Guardiola was suitably ambivalent: “The relationship is good. When we see each other we say ‘hi’,” he said.
The City manager was more responsive when informed of Chelsea coach Antonio Conte’s remarks the Manchester clubs had failed to ‘buy’ the title this season.
“All the clubs are going to spend a lot of money and you cannot forget all the players that Chelsea have that cost a lot of money,” said Guardiola.
“People think that just City spend money but all the clubs around the world, in Spain, Germany, England and Italy, they spend a lot of money.
“This summer it is going to happen again.
“I played with Barcelona and won the Champions League with eight guys growing from The Academy. Zero cost to win the Champions League. That’s happened.”