Manchester City 2017-18: Can Guardiola helm a Premier League dynasty?
Having missed out on winning a major honour for the first time in his celebrated coaching career last season, Pep Guardiola has restated his claim as a man at the summit of world football through Manchester City's twin Premier League and EFL Cup triumphs.
Manchester United's shock defeat at home to West Brom, eight days on from Jose Mourinho's men spectacularly crashing the title party at the Etihad Stadium, handed City glory with five matches remaining this term.
No side has ever been crowned champions with more games to spare in England and they could add more records before the season is out, alongside their league-best winning run of 18 matches that spanned August to December last year.
However, United's derby win and a chastening Champions League exit at the hands of Liverpool suggest Guardiola is right to expect a tougher test next time around, while a widespread thirst to seize upon these signs of vulnerability at City indicated only sustained and repeated success will do under their much-vaunted manager.
"I was in Barcelona for four years and handled when you win, you win, you win - it’s so much more demanding," he said. The question is, how can City make sure they are inviting that level of scrutiny sometime soon?
Make sure Guardiola sticks around
An obvious necessity in a Guardiola dynasty is Guardiola himself. The 47-year-old is almost as famous for being restless as he is for winning things; for looking towards the next challenge as intently as he tackles the one at hand. No one has retained the Premier League title since Manchester United in 2008-09 and if City are to make the summit their new base camp they need Guardiola to stick around. The lack of Barcelona's behind-the-scenes politicking or the all-pervading influence of a powerful band of ex-players as at Bayern Munich bodes well. At City, Guardiola can pursue his vision unchecked, potentially making the rumoured contract extension beyond next season all the more appealing.
50 - Pep Guardiola has become the second fastest manager to reach 50 Premier League wins (69 games), with only Jose Mourinho (63) doing so in fewer. Rampant.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 31, 2018
Clear the air with Sergio Aguero
From the qualified praise Guardiola dealt out early in his reign, to the arrival of Gabriel Jesus, pursuit of Alexis Sanchez and the fresh reports at the end of last year that Aguero was once again unhappy with how he was being handled, the relationship between manager and star striker is not without unease. However, Guardiola has coaxed some of the finest form of Aguero's stellar career from the Argentina international this season – his contribution to City's overall play improved to the extent that it would seem foolish to start that work all over again with a marquee signing. Who out there is both available and better? It's a list somewhere between short and non-existent.
Buy quality, not quantity
City's two previous Premier League title defences under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini showed the folly of bolstering squad numbers without adding top-class performers. Chelsea did likewise this year, much to the chagrin of Antonio Conte. Lifting the level in a squad that has dominated domestically to such an extent is no easy task but City's leading lights must be challenged by one or two high-end additions. Versatile first-teamers – Guardiola has been able to operate for most of this season without a recognised left-back due to Benjamin Mendy's long-term injury – and a thriving youth setup will be able to pick up any slack elsewhere.
Tie down Leroy Sane to a long-term contract
When it comes to discussing City's most important player this year, Sane probably enters the conversation somewhere below Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Aguero, Fernandinho, Nicolas Otamendi and Ederson. That reflects well on the others rather than badly upon the 22-year-old Germany winger, whose pace, skill, technique and athleticism combine to give him arguably a higher ceiling than any other member of Guardiola's squad. De Bruyne, Silva, Fernandinho and Otamendi have all been rewarded with new deals this season and City should consider contracting Sane beyond the end of his current terms in 2021. He could be in a different stratosphere by then.
Address Champions League issues
Bayern Munich's failure to progress beyond three consecutive Champions League semi-finals under Guardiola placed an undeniable asterisk alongside his tenure at the Allianz Arena, despite it featuring a trio of Bundesliga processions and a pair of DFB-Pokals. Those are the standards his reputation and deeds set. As such, the manner in which Liverpool dumped City out in the quarter-finals of Europe's top competition is problematic. Guardiola has regularly noted his club's lack of pedigree in the Champions League, but over-wrought tactical tweaks in high-pressure knockout games have become a complex of his own. They are problems he and City must work to overcome together.
Big congratulations to Liverpool, Hopefully they can represent England well in the semi-final.— PepTeam (@PepTeam) April 10, 2018
Muchas felicidades al Liverpool. Afortunadamente ellos podrán representar bien a Inglaterra en semifinales.#cityvlfc #ucl pic.twitter.com/Z3Tzz6GjmV