Pep Guardiola knew he was exaggerating when on January 19, after attending Manchester City’s comeback against Tottenham, from 0-2 to 4-2, he raised the tone of a message that he had been repeating like a ritual of goading. “There’s no energy, there’s no passion,” he said, pointing at his players. “We reacted after 0-2, just because we were losing. But there is nothing. we have four Premiers in five years… and I see the passion of Arsenal and right now they kill for every ball. We played well, but there is something inside that we lack”.
Stefan Ortega, Laporte (Rodrigo, min. 78), Manuel Akanji (John Stones, min. 57), Walker, Kalvin Phillips, Foden, Sergio Gómez (De Bruyne, min. 77), Rico Lewis, Cole Palmer, Julián Álvarez and Mahrez (Erling Braut Haaland, min. 73)
Arrizabalaga, Trevoh Chalobah, Wesley Fofana, Thiago Silva, Loftus-Cheek (Carney Chukwuemeka, min. 81), Enzo Jeremias Fernandez, Azpilicueta, Lewis Hall, Kai Havertz (Christian Pulisic, min. 85), Conor Gallagher (Mykhailo Mudryk, min. 68) and Sterling (Nonso Madueke, min. 68)
goals 1-0 min. 11: Julian Alvarez.
Referee michael oliver
Yellow cards Kai Havertz (min. 17) and Enzo Jeremias Fernandez (min. 65)
Several Chelsea and Liverpool advisers consulted by this newspaper reached the same conclusion. Guardiola —they insisted— was doing a goldsmith’s job to weed his squad and place it in a state of maximum alert. “If Arsenal led the Premier League for months, it wasn’t because City players were sated after winning four titles; but Guardiola deceived them; he employed psychological trickery because he wanted to get one more point of attention and consistency in player partnerships with newcomers Haaland and Álvarez,” says an Arsenal prospector-for-hire. “Guardiola knows from experience that players always have doubts; when they go to bed they think about the coach’s words and think: ‘What if we’re screwing up?’. This produces fear, fear of losing the contract, fear of failing, or going to the bench, and the reaction is usually constructive”.
“My job is to increase the aggressiveness of the players,” Guardiola confessed this Sunday, after beating Chelsea 1-0 and lifting the Premier Cup at the Etihad. “I have to use the media to send them messages. You help me a lot!” He said at the press conference.
At 52 years old and after winning 11 leagues in 14 seasons in Spain, Germany and England, Guardiola sharpens the sensor that measures collective mental exhaustion like no one else. City showed signs of fatigue, a year ago. He was walking on an increasingly narrow ledge when the coach used the last summer market to transform the team. As the first months of the championship unfolded, he did not seek to raise the passion of his footballers, but to get them to pay more attention to speed up the process of adaptation to the precision instruments recently introduced into the machinery: Haaland and Julián Álvarez.
Involved in the concert of midfielders and passing midfielders, the ability of the two signings to repeat top-quality unchecks with a frequency rarely seen since Villa and Eto’o was equivalent to multiplying the dynamism and offensive power of City in all orders. If Guardiola’s psychological manipulation injected adrenaline, the unchecking of Haaland and Julián Álvarez doubled the dose of stimuli and solutions for a team that had been incurring bouts of bogging down for years due to excessive rhetoric in passing. You just had to fit the pieces together to increase the depth. Making sure that with a lot of effort, De Bruyne, Grealish, Silva, Stones, Rodri or Mahrez interpreted their nines in all possible situations. Faced with increasingly tight defences, learning was not always easy in the first months of the championship, even though everyone seemed motivated. The boys needed a bit of uncertainty. Guardiola used his spurs with the mastery of a witch doctor. He scared them.
The coach was followed by a squad of captains convinced of the need for inflammation: Gündogan, Bernardo Silva or Rubén Dias joined the coaching. Some delivered harangues. Dias repeated the model before a game: “Let’s show ourselves out there how much we want to win the Premier again! When they think that we are already tired, we will feel like doing it again. This is how we will become great!”
“I’m too old”
The excitement helped the players connect on the field. The consequence was a flurry of chances against the tightest defenses City have ever encountered. With barely throwing centers, the auctions were reproduced everywhere. Eight between the three suits against the wall of Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals, were the perfect sample. Haaland’s 36 goals in 34 league games are a record in a season. “This is unreal!” The Norwegian repeated this Sunday, after beating Chelsea and lifting the cup. “Unreal…! He expected to win the Premier, but he didn’t expect to score so many goals. Now let’s party all night!”
“The players can do whatever they want,” Guardiola mused, when asked about the celebration on club television; “Not me, because I am very old.”
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