The Catalan was delighted with his players’ response after their Champions League elimination but they have not won since and are looking flat
This was a melting pot of all Manchester City’s current issues.
They struggle to convert their chances. They concede easy goals. They do not win away games against the top sides. There are only about half a dozen players who will definitely still be at the club next season.
Hazard inspires Chelsea to win over City
All were in evidence at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea won 2-1 and strengthened their grip on the title after a weekend wobble.
As Guardiola discussed his side’s mentality in the build-up to this match, he bemoaned the fact that they “forget to play” – they stop playing on the front foot, as he demands – when they are in the lead in a big game.
The Catalan says “we react when we are in the bad moment; when everything is lost, we take out the best in our game.”
In that sense, a new issue emerged: trailing 2-1 to Chelsea for 55 minutes, they could not get back into the game, and rarely looked like they would, despite all their possession.
City are no strangers to dominating big matches but failing to get their rewards, albeit usually at home. Here, they had more of the ball but despite looking dangerous during the first half, Chelsea seemed content to sit back after the break and they warded off whatever was thrown at them.
The Blues are now 14 points behind the leaders, and just four ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal, who have a game in hand.
City’s season is not quite in danger of unravelling but Guardiola certainly needs to raise his players again, having thought he had done so following their Champions League elimination.
He was delighted with the performance against Liverpool but that did not deliver victory, and the intensity shown by his players has not been matched in either of their matches since.
Late King strike denies Liverpool
Hull and Southampton are next up in the league before the big-game mentality will be tested in a Wembley FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal.
The Blues have now won just one of their last six matches in all competitions and few of those have provided too many positives: bar the draw with Liverpool, City have looked uninspired for the majority of the rest of the five matches in which they have dropped points.
Those who accuse Guardiola of stubbornly refusing to change his tactics could not do so on Wednesday: he surprisingly picked Fabian Delph, for his first start of the league campaign, to sit at the back of midfield, deeper than Fernandinho, to block the spaces Chelsea so often exploit.
Yet 10 minutes in Eden Hazard drifted into the box, completely unmarked, and fired in via a deflection off Vincent Kompany, who also hasn’t started a game since November, and had looked like he may never start another for the club.
Kompany acquitted himself well and Delph did not commit such a grave error again, but the lack of depth in Guardiola’s squad was once more evident. Jesus Navas was solid at full-back but is woefully limited in possession. Gael Clichy was worse. Fernandinho, one of City’s best players earlier in the season, looks to have lost his way. Kevin De Bruyne is tired.
There will be an overhaul this summer, with almost a full matchday squad-full of City players in danger of being cut loose.
Not that all of the blame can be laid at the feet of the players. No matter how flat they looked in the second half, Guardiola seemed reluctant to change things.
Spurs strike late to sink Swans
Raheem Sterling was poor at the weekend and withdrawn at half-time, but could surely have offered something had he been granted more than the final 11 minutes here. Nolito coming on for Leroy Sane in the dying stages made no difference.
In Guardiola’s defence, there is not much quality on his bench, but this was not the first time he has left things late, usually too late, to mix it up.
Of course, after all that City had a golden opportunity to snatch a result anyway. John Stones glided in unmarked at a corner but side-footed an effort over the crossbar from a matter of yards out.
Same old, same old.