EPL

Guardiola signs City deal: Is Pep's new two-year contract the right decision?

By Sports Desk November 19, 2020

For now, at least, the future of Pep Guardiola is secure.

The Manchester City manager has signed a new two-year contract that will keep him at the Etihad Stadium until 2023.

There is no denying Guardiola has brought spectacular success to City, but few would deny there have been some concerning signs in the early stages of the 2020-21 season.

So, is his new deal the right decision?

GUARDIOLA HAS MADE CITY HISTORY – THEY CAN'T RISK HIM GOING ELSEWHERE
By John Skilbeck

If City ever seriously considered a future without Guardiola, then a glance across town should have given them pause for thought: if you've got a proven winner, cling to him for dear life.

Alex Ferguson's long-dreaded retirement in 2013 gave Manchester United a headache for which they are still seeking a cure. Pfizer and Moderna would have struggled to find a remedy for the Red Devils, and City desperately did not want to find themselves in a similar spiral to that which has essentially neutralised the threat of their neighbours.

Which leads us to Thursday's declaration that Guardiola is staying sky blue for another two seasons, despite last term's failure to win either the Premier League or Champions League.
That failure is a loose definition of what many would consider immense success: second in the Premier League, quarter-finals in Europe and an EFL Cup win would not amount to anything approaching disappointment for most teams, but the standards at City have been set sky high.

Long gone are the days of praying for a miracle under Frank Clark and Joe Royle, of the club falling for the diminishing charms of King Kev and Sven. It is A-list that City want and A-list they have throughout their ranks: in Guardiola they have a coach – a talisman – they dare not lose.

Who would they target if Guardiola left? Mauricio Pochettino, who improved Tottenham without taking them to a trophy before losing all momentum? That sounds like an Old Trafford appointment.

Julian Nagelsmann? Nuno Espirito Santo? Brendan Rodgers? Bookmakers have Patrick Vieira high on their list. Send a doctor; I'm convulsing here.

City remain set up to conquer England and Europe under Guardiola, alongside wingmen Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, and now the team have to go out and achieve that, this season and in the next two.

Is Guardiola untouchable? No, but City are in the midst of the most successful era in their 140-year history. Why risk losing the man still held up by some as the world's best coach? Why risk somebody else having him?

CITY ARE DECLINING AND GUARDIOLA ISN'T STOPPING IT
By Joe Wright

"I have everything I could possibly want," said Guardiola of his new two-year deal. If only City could say the same.

Before anyone keels over from righteous anger, no, I do not think Guardiola has done a bad job at City. Nobody who started watching football before 2019 could make that argument; even then, they came second and won the EFL Cup.

It needed an unprecedented level of transfer spending, but under Guardiola, City have smashed English football records, won a historic domestic treble and played with a style unlike any other seen on those shores.

But he has not delivered the Champions League. He has not even made a semi-final. And his team – slightly, gradually, but irrefutably – are declining.

The proof was there in last term's title-surrender to Liverpool and it's there in this season's numbers. They lost 5-2 at home to Leicester City, the first time in 686 matches that a Guardiola team had conceded five in a single game. They won only three of their seven league matches.

Their expected goals (xG) rating, compared to last season, has almost halved; their shooting has dropped by an average of five attempts per match. This is their worst start to a league season since 2008-09, and Guardiola's lowest points (12) return after seven games in his 12 years as a manager.

City spent around £51million on centre-back Ruben Dias but still do not look impregnable – they also bolstered their defence by bringing in Nathan Ake from relegated Bournemouth. David Silva has not been replaced, Sergio Aguero has been fit for just three games, and their win rate drops to just 40 per cent when Rodri partners Ilkay Gundogan in midfield.

Those are more than minor concerns about the spine of Guardiola's team and, while they have the financial clout to fix them, there must come a time when City bosses wonder whether the treasure chest should be left in another manager's hands.

If they don't wrestle back their Premier League crown, if they falter again in Europe, questions will be asked whether Guardiola is the right man to motivate these players or oversee another expensive squad overhaul made far tougher post-pandemic. Allowing his deal to run out in June 2021 would have given all parties the option of a peaceful (and cheap) parting of the ways; now, they must back him or sack him if things turn sour.

Perhaps Guardiola will win the Champions League. Perhaps he'll even sign Lionel Messi – a move which may well have come to fruition before the start of the season had the Argentine not agreed to see out his contract at Barcelona. Or perhaps, for the first time at a club in his managerial career, he will outstay his welcome.

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    Juan Cuadrado fired wastefully off target before Roberto Soriano went close to equalising late in the first half with a shot from inside the penalty area that flashed wide.

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  • Is Thiago Alcantara ill-suited to Liverpool's style of play? Is Thiago Alcantara ill-suited to Liverpool's style of play?

    Thiago Alcantara is a rather unique breed of footballer, the type of player who will be almost universally enjoyed such are his breath-taking technical attributes.

    It's like he rolls the passing talents of Juan Roman Riquelme and first touch of Ronaldinho into a single player and saunters around the pitch ensuring the game is played at a pace dictated by him.

    His Liverpool career feels a lot shorter than it actually has been because of his absence through injury, and he'll be hoping his recent return is the catalyst to kick-starting what is resembling a fairly meek title defence.

    But while Thiago has shown flashes of his immense ability in his fledgling Liverpool career, it appears not all are entirely convinced.

    Former Reds midfielder Dietmar Hamann expressed his reservations in an interview with talkSPORT on Tuesday, suggesting Thiago is detrimental to a key part of Liverpool's play; utilising a quick tempo with hard-working midfielders who look to get the ball forward to the front three as soon as possible.

    Hamann urged Liverpool to be cautious about how much influence they let Thiago have, questioning his effectiveness when not in possession and suitability to the Reds' system, concerns that won't have been eased by Thursday's shock defeat to Burnley.

    But does this give a fair reflection of Thiago?

    An unnecessary luxury?

    First of all, there are only so many conclusions you can make regarding Thiago and his time at Liverpool because he has not featured particularly often, as previously highlighted.

    But the fact is, Liverpool's record in Premier League games he has featured in is quite poor, with only one of those six ending in a victory.

    That win came in his Premier League debut, a 2-0 victory at Chelsea back in September – that's right, it was the game where he completed 75 passes despite only coming on at half-time, a record since Opta began recording such data in 2003-04 among players to play a maximum of 45 minutes.

    The hype after that match was stratospheric – the champions had seemingly added the final string to their bow and they were seemingly set to overwhelm everyone, but it's worth bearing in mind that was a Chelsea side reduced to 10 men before Thiago had even come on.

    Liverpool average just one point per game with Thiago, that more than doubles to 2.2 when he hasn't played – additionally, their win percentage rockets from 16.7 to 61.5 in games the Spaniard hasn't featured in.

    Of course, it's a relatively small sample size, so perhaps take the facts with a pinch of salt – but there are metrics that can shine more light on Thiago's influence.

    One of Hamann's major reservations related to Thiago's desire to dictate play and how he might, in the long run, negatively impact Liverpool's effectiveness off the ball.

    "Liverpool were always good when they weren't in possession, won it and played quickly forward. He's not that type of player, so it will be very interesting when he does play more often now how it's going to change the dynamics of the team," Hamann said.

    It's true, Liverpool do have more of the ball (65.7 per cent compared to 64.7) with Thiago in the side, but the difference is negligible and certainly cannot be pointed to as a cause for worry.

    The supply line

    Then there's the concerns relating to Thiago's style of play potentially impacting supply to the frontline. Well, the Reds average 18.7 shots per game when he plays (up from 14.9 without him).

    There is also no damning evidence to suggest Thiago isn't looking to feed the forwards either, after all, he passed to Mohamed Salah 11 times (a joint high) against Manchester United last weekend.

    He has picked out Salah 36 times in their 365 minutes on the pitch together – so, once every 10.1 minutes. Although that's less frequent than he passes to Trent Alexander-Arnold (once per every 8.2 minutes) and Andy Robertson (8.8 minutes), it shows he is supplying the Reds' most-threatening forward regularly.

    And while the two full-backs had off days against Burnley, can you really blame Thiago for passing to them often? Since the start of last season, they are Liverpool's leading providers of shooting opportunities.

    Additionally, his 14.9 passes into final third of the pitch per 90 minutes is second only to Jordan Henderson (16.2) among Liverpool players this term – Thiago beats him, and every other Red, in terms of successful passes in the attacking third every game, however (25.8, compared to Henderson's 20.5).

    "He's not that type of player"

    It's fair to say Thiago probably isn't best known for what he brings to teams off the ball, but despite some seemingly questioning him in this department, he appears to be at least pulling his weight.

    In fact, he's averaging marginally more tackles per 90 minutes than Henderson (1.5 over 1.4), while no one in the Liverpool team is intercepting opposition passes as frequently as the Barcelona product (2.8 per 90 mins).

    On top of that, he's ranked third in the squad for duel involvements (14.7 per 90 mins) – while not necessarily an indicator of excellence on its own, that should at the very least dispel any questions regarding his work rate.

    On an individual level when you look at the data, Thiago doesn't appear to be out of place stylistically. While he may occasionally spend more time on the ball than some of his midfield contemporaries, he possesses the kind of technical wizardry that arguably no other Liverpool player has and that is surely a positive rather than a negative.

    He's also clearly a hard-working player who offers plenty off the ball. So, while the Reds are going through a tricky patch at the moment, Thiago's abilities should be embraced rather than looked upon with suspicion.

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