Pep’s problems are piling up just at the wrong time… De Bruyne could miss Champions League showdown with PSG, Sterling is struggling, and he was angered by the Super League – so will they derail Manchester City’s season?
- There will be no quadruple for Manchester City this season after exiting FA Cup
- However Pep Guardiola’s squad are still on course for an impressive treble
- But issues are beginning to mount for Guardiola at a crucial moment of season
There will be no quadruple for Manchester City this season. Their dreams of making history were crushed by Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals last weekend.
However Pep Guardiola’s squad are still on for an impressive treble as they sit eight points clear at the top of the Premier League, face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League semi-finals and may win their first trophy this season on Sunday when City face Tottenham in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley.
But are issues beginning to mount for Guardiola at a crucial moment of the campaign? Here, Sportsmail takes a look at the potential bumps in the road as they enter the business end of the season.
Manchester City are experiencing some turbulence at the business end of the season
Star man Kevin De Bruyne faces an anxious wait to find out the extent of the ankle injury that forced him off early on in the second half in their semi-final defeat last Saturday.
The Belgian international fears he may have sustained ligament damage after landing awkwardly on the outside of his right foot following an innocuous tussle with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante.
City’s midfield talisman could be sidelined for a month, meaning he would miss the cup final and their European showdown with PSG. It’s no secret that the Champions League is the trophy that Guardiola and the club wants.
Star man Kevin De Bruyne faces an anxious wait to find out the extent of his ankle injury
Guardiola’s outfit have managed without De Bruyne already this season with Bernardo Silva providing creativity behind the frontline and Ilkay Gungodan stepping up in the playmaker’s absence.
City visit Aston Villa in England’s top flight on Wednesday night before the cup final at the weekend. Three days later they travel to France for the first leg of their last-four Champions League tie, with the return leg on May 4.
They have shown they can cope without their midfield maestro in the past but there’s no doubt that not having De Bruyne’s quality for the run-in would be a huge loss.
Pep Guardiola could be without his maestro for a month after he limped off on Saturday
2. Chelsea have exposed weaknesses
Guardiola made eight changes for their trip to Wembley last weekend and was accused of disrespecting the FA Cup.
City were not at their free-flowing best against the Blues but Thomas Tuchel’s tactics were executed to perfection by his players to keep City quiet.
Tuchel deployed five at the back, with three central defenders, which suffocated City’s attackers and limited the space for them to operate in.
Chelsea exploited City’s high defensive line in their FA Cup semi-final victory at the weekend
The Chelsea boss also stuck with Timo Werner in attack to exploit City’s high defensive line. The pacy striker was a threat in behind and Hakim Ziyech’s disallowed goal in the first half was a warning sign.
Werner was played through in the left channel and squared the ball to Ziyech, who did the rest, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside.
However the forward timed his run in the second half to produce a carbon copy of the move. Werner played the ball across to the winger, who tapped home into an empty net, with City goalkeeper Zack Steffen caught in no-man’s land.
City were exposed and for one of the few times this season looked vulnerable at the back. PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs will take note.
Striker Timo Werner was a threat in behind their defence and highlighted City’s vulnerability
3. Raheem Sterling out of form
England star Raheem Sterling was recalled to the side after starting on the bench against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last week but he struggled in the 1-0 defeat.
He failed to make an impact on the game, with his fellow forwards Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres also unable to make an impression.
Guardiola needs Sterling, who has not scored since February 21, to rediscover his form, and fast.
Guardiola needs Raheem Sterling, who has not scored since February 21, to find his form
The 26-year-old has recently lost his place in Guardiola’s starting XI to Phil Foden and the youngster was introduced off the bench on Saturday. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Foden back in from the start this week.
Former City defender Micah Richards said City lacked his creativity before he entered the fray. He told the BBC: ‘Foden was magical. He seems to get better and better and better. They’re a better team with him in the side.’
All forwards go through goal droughts but can Guardiola afford to be patient to wait for Sterling to end his?
4. Disruptive European Super League
Pep Guardiola made clear his loathing of the controversial European Super League plans announced this week.
In particular he could not stand the idea that his club had signed up to a competition in which there would be no relegation. ‘It is not a sport where the relation between effort and success does not exist,’ he said. ‘It is not a sport where success is already guaranteed or it doesn’t matter where you lose.’
Guardiola sarcastically claimed ‘it is an honour’ that he was the first person employed by City to publicly discuss the proposals, and added he had been left uneasy by the situation.
Guardiola’s relationship with City owner Sheikh Mansour (right) has taken a hit from the club signing up to the European Super League, after the Spaniard was clearly angered by the plans
‘For all of us managers, it is uncomfortable,’ he said. ‘Presidents can talk more clear what is the idea for the future and where football is going to go.’
City led the way, along with Chelsea, in kiboshing the Super League by withdrawing after fan protests, but the episode has left a sour taste. Guardiola’s comments suggest his relationship with his employers has taken a hit and it remains to be seen whether that lasts.
The whole sorry episode was undoubtedly an unwanted stress for City’s stars too.
City fans made the feelings known as they produced banners outside the Etihad Stadium to protest their involvement in the new competition.
‘RIP MCFC’, one read, while another called on owner Sheikh Mansour to ‘sort it out’ and pull them out of the Super League.
Musician Liam Gallagher, who is a vocal and prominent Man City fan, tweeted: ‘C’mon MCFC do the rite thing f*** it off we’re better than this as we were.’
The uncertainty could well unsettle those within the City camp at just the wrong time.
City fans made the feelings known on Monday night as they produced banners outside the Etihad Stadium to protest their involvement in the proposed new competition
5. Striker woes
City were blunt in attack in their defeat by Chelsea, with very few chances created.
Guardiola has had to cope without the club’s all-time top goalscorer Sergio Aguero for the majority of the season and the striker, who will leave when his deal expires in June, has been sidelined once more.
Aguero has not been able to recapture his form due to the disruption to his fitness and may well have one eye on his next career move when he returns.
Forward Sergio Aguero has struggled for fitness all season and will leave City this summer
Gabriel Jesus, used to playing second fiddle to the Argentina international, has filled in while Guardiola has also used the likes of De Bruyne, Torres and Sterling as false nines.
Mahrez, Foden and Gundogan have all seized their opportunities during the course of the season but the lack of a world-class centre forward was clear last weekend.
If De Bruyne is sidelined, Sterling continues to struggle, and if Aguero is not razor sharp, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar may show City what they are missing in their highly-anticipated European showdown.
City will face Paris Saint-Germain star forwards Kylian Mbappe (left) and Neymar next week
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