A Kyle Walker goal in the 28th minute saw Manchester City score an unconvincing 1-0 victory over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane and climb to eighth on the Premier League table.
Pep Guardiola and his men struggled to break down a side that sit 19th in the Premier League table with just one point to their name, adding another to their series of uncharacteristic performances since the start of last season.
City are seemingly suffering from tactical fatigue, the kind which struck Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the tail-end of Guardiola's stint with those clubs. However, it doesn’t stop there. A multitude of reasons lead to the conclusion that this may be the end of Guardiola’s run with Manchester City. We list them below:
Done it all, won it all
In his stint at Manchester City, his longest at one club, Guardiola has absolutely bullied the domestic competitions. Two Premier League titles, two FA Cup wins and three League Cups later, Guardiola has absolutely nothing left to win domestically. The only blotch on his City career remains that elusive Champions League trophy.
City and Guardiola’s marriage has paid dividends as both parties expected it to when they started their journey together in 2016, but the biggest prize in club football remains a dream for the duo.
Guardiola’s best chance was perhaps last season, with many touting them to win it all once the tournament was shifted into a single-leg knockout tournament starting with the quarterfinal, but a bizarre loss against Lyon ended their quest for the title in shocking fashion.
The Spanish coach hasn’t won the Champions League since leaving Barcelona in 2013 and it seems that City simply lacks the mentality or Guardiola overcomplicates matters with his squad selection in the latter stages of the tournament, making it impossible for them to claim the throne.
The Messi conundrum
Manchester City were just a step away from signing Lionel Messi, but the deal fell through after Barcelona stood firm on their €700m demand and the Argentine opted against taking Barcelona to court and instead gave the Blaugrana another season before leaving on a free transfer to England.
But, in a rather cruel twist of fate for City and Guardiola, Barcelona's board, including president Josep Maria Bartomeu resigned from their positions and long time fan-favourites Victor Font and Joan Laporta emerged as the lead candidates to replace the maligned former boss.
With the club hierarchy back into the hands of those that put the values of Barcelona ahead of the bottom line, it is likely that Messi will extend his stay at his childhood club and probably even see out his career in Spain, ending City's long-term quest for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.
A City move for Messi could have certainly persuaded Guardiola to stay a season or two, but with that certainly out of the question, the Spaniard will retain little reason to continue as the City boss.
The need for a rebuild
If there was one team that most would point and claim to be as close to perfect as a football team can be, it would be Manchester City. However, that certainly isn’t the case.
City's backline, on which the club has spent more than the GDP of most countries on the planet, imparts no confidence on the field. Nathan Ake is a good Premier League defender, who, however, falls way short when compared to Europe’s finest centre-backs or even second-choice centre-backs.
Reuben Dias is still pretty young to be the perfect partner for Aymeric Laporte, while Benjamin Mendy remains the biggest suspect in City's defensive ranks. Kyle Walker turned 30 this season and the club will soon need to find a replacement for the Englishman while Ederson's shot-stopping continues to be a subject of panic for the club.
Club icons Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho are seemingly close to the end of their stints at City while the likes of Phil Foden and Ferran Torres remain a year or two away from being at the level that Guardiola demands from his attacking players.
Make no mistake, City have a fantastic squad at their disposal, but the team still needs repairs in key areas and with the global pandemic affecting income, it could take a couple of years for Guardiola to have a team as stacked as his team from the 2017-18 and 2018-19 season that won back-to-back Premier League titles.
All in all, City and Guardiola have had a terrific time together. But the writing is on the wall for the Spaniard to move on in search of a new challenge elsewhere in Europe.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Rui Vieira