What a trophyless season would mean for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City

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Pep Guardiola looks pensive - ACTION IMAGES
Pep Guardiola looks pensive - ACTION IMAGES

Only once before in his 14-year managerial career has Pep Guardiola gone a season without winning a trophy. That was in his first campaign in English football when he had the mitigation of taking over a new team in Manchester City, in a new country, a new environment and implementing his ways. Even so, that April, in 2017, he admitted: “No silverware - it will not be a good season.”

The rest is history of course: three Premier League titles, four League Cups and one FA Cup to add to the 14 trophies he won with Barcelona and the seven he collected at Bayern Munich. Only Sir Alex Ferguson has won more silverware. And Guardiola is still only 51 - although he certainly will not manage for as long as Ferguson.

Beyond that the Catalan has already stamped his influence on the English game. He set the standard that other managers, led by Jurgen Klopp, have attempted to match.

And yet. If City do not defeat Aston Villa, and if they lose the Premier League title to Liverpool, then it will be a barren season for them and for Guardiola, which given the quality they possess is almost unthinkable. It will be even more unthinkable, given the rivalry, that surrendering the title to Liverpool and to Klopp would also furnish them with the third - the most unlikely third - trophy on the way to that unprecedented quadruple which is an achievement that can only ever be matched in the future and never beaten.

There will be a maelstrom of emotions at City and with Guardiola if Liverpool also then go on to win the Champions League next Saturday against Real Madrid in Paris given how agonisingly close they were to beating the Spanish giants in the semi-finals.

Pep Guardiola cannot hide his frustration against Real Madrid - GETTY IMAGES
Pep Guardiola cannot hide his frustration against Real Madrid - GETTY IMAGES

The wounds from the second leg loss at the Bernabeu are still raw even if Guardiola’s anger was reserved for the first game when he believed City were careless at home with the chance to put the tie beyond Real’s reach.

Have City been careless in the Premier League? Having opened up a 14-point lead over Liverpool at one stage, albeit having played two games more which prompted Guardiola to call it a “fake” advantage, then it would appear the case.

But City have been relentless; as have Liverpool. These two teams are setting crazy standards right now. Since the turn of the year, City have dropped just 11 points from a possible 51 and yet that has still allowed Liverpool to narrow the gap. City could finish the season with an incredible goal difference of plus 72 and on 91 points - good enough to win the league in 23 of the 29 Premier League seasons (and one of those in which it would not have been enough was a 42-game campaign in 1993-94 when Manchester United finished on 92 points) - and still end up second.

It would leave themselves open to the accusation, as declared by Guardiola himself, that “it will not be a good season”, especially after the club spent a British record £100 million on signing Jack Grealish last summer when the obvious priority was a striker and with the manager disappointed in not getting Harry Kane. They have remedied that with the signing of Erling Haaland but that is for next season.

A little like Real, even if Liverpool are a better team, Klopp’s side just do not go away. They just do not know when they are beaten, even if, technically, City are a superior team. It has left Guardiola on a high wire. Under him City look like one of the best teams ever to grace English football, but what does that mean in a season that is trophyless?

Latest standings 2021/22 (top two)

Even for someone with the cast-iron belief of Guardiola - who nevertheless does fret - that would be a dent to the confidence and, intriguingly of course, he is not signing a new contract at present, despite the fact that Klopp has renewed with Liverpool.

Guardiola has one more year after this campaign and has indicated he would like to stay, and City are desperate for him to do so, but it is not a given. Failing to win the Champions League during his time at City would hurt, just as it hurt him at Bayern, and a barren season would compound that. It will probably make him more determined than ever to stay. But maybe he might reason he is falling short.

Of course there should be some context. It would be a major shock if City do not beat Villa, although they and Guardiola could be forgiven for fearing there might just be another twist with the Liverpool connections of Steven Gerrard leading their opponents and with Philippe Coutinho facing them. The resolve City showed in coming back from 2-0 down last weekend away to West Ham United shows their determination, although there will also be regret around Riyad Mahrez’s missed late penalty.

If he had scored the title would have been City’s - given their far superior goal difference - and we would not be going into a final day decider as we did in 2019. Then City were away to Brighton, and Liverpool were at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, as they are again this weekend.

Sadio Mane put Liverpool ahead, and Brighton also went in front, and briefly City were slipping up, although, in truth, they always looked like getting the result they needed and equalised just 83 seconds later before going on to win 4-1 and pip Liverpool by a point.

They will be desperately hoping that history repeats itself, with City also having won the league title at the Etihad on the final day 10 years ago. Not that they will want a repeat of the Sergio Aguero moment and there will be frustration, despite a deep admiration for Liverpool, from Guardiola that it has even come to this for a side that has scored four goals or more in a third of their league games. If they fail, that frustration will lead to criticism also. It shows how fine the margins are.

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