EPL TALK: Confused Guardiola must fix Man City’s identity crisis

EPL TALK: Confused Guardiola must fix Man City’s identity crisis

PEP Guardiola has gone full “tortured genius”. Or at least, he’s gone the Hollywood version of the tortured genius, complete with physical tics and Oscar-worthy outbursts.

When Rodri’s mistake led to Tottenham Hotspur’s winner against Manchester City,the defeated manager went a bit Doc Brown in “Back to the Future” and a bit Tom Cruise in any movie that involves the diminutive actor being a lone maverick against pen-pushing incompetents (which is essentially every movie.)

Guardiola threw his bottle in disgust. He rubbed his bald dome repeatedly. He cursed his misfortune to be surrounded by buffoons; clowns down the left flank, jokers down the right, here he is, stuck in the middle with his own brilliance.

His pawns are not performing, not aligning to the tactical master plan that only he can see. Why won’t his human pieces move around the board, per his detailed instructions? What is so difficult here?

Ernest Hemingway once wrote that “happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know” and Guardiola looks less content than Rodri in central midfield, unable to make sense of the erratic movement around him, unable to make the pictures in his mind a reality.

Manchester City do not know what they are at the moment. Or the players have little idea of what Guardiola wants them to be. If football teams really are built in their manager’s image, then City are a schizophrenic blob on a petri dish, a shapeless mess in need of further sculpting. It’s not an identity crisis so much as it’s an exercise in overthinking.

On a recent Yahoo! Singapore podcast, I suggested that it’s only a matter of time before Guardiola sticks Ederson up front whilst screaming at the whiteboard, “they’ll never see it coming”. Silly, obviously, but he’s already halfway towards parody.

Dump Joao Cancelo and pick two right-backs against Spurs? They’ll never see it coming. Pick Rico Lewis, an academy graduate and a natural right-back, to dominate the left against Tottenham? They’ll never see it coming. Drop Kevin de Bruyne, remove the most direct service to Erling Haaland and fall back into a pattern of harmless possession? They’ll never … and so forth. It’s getting boring now.

Only it isn’t. It really isn’t. Guardiola’s mid-season tinkering is an early treat. The tortured genius routine typically arrives in the latter stages of the Champions League, when the template that has delivered four league titles in five seasons is thrown out for a tactical gamble that involves more swapped positions than the Kama Sutra.

But we’ve been blessed with a sneak preview. Guardiola has already conceded that de Bruyne’s benching was a tactical decision. The Belgian wasn’t injured. And Lewis really was expected to advance into midfield and liberate Bernando Silva, allowing the Portuguese to join Haaland and Julián Álvarez.

Cancelo originated that role. He has now taken that role on a tour across Germany, collecting two assists in two games for Bayern Munich. Lewis is his replacement at City. Lewis turned 18 in November. The club mascot has had more touches on an English Premier League pitch.

Strange player selections a sign of Pep’s gambler’s fallacy?

The reasons for Cancelo’s departure remain unclear and Guardiola may be entirely justified in jettisoning a defender whose form had plateaued slightly – for both City and Portugal – but the de Bruyne decision remains a head-scratcher.

De Bruyne has registered 12 EPL assists. Haaland has 25 Premier League goals. The cerebral Belgian gets the Norwegian’s rudimentary game better than anyone else in the squad. Find the target. Deliver the blonde smart bomb. It’s not complicated.

But Guardiola appears to complicate the process anyway. He picked Lewis to prove a point. But what was the point? It’s unwise to expect a teenager to take on Tottenham?

In such instances, the City manager appears to suffer from a ‘bias blind spot’. Psychologists believe smart people may be less likely to recognise their own flaws, even though they are more than capable of identifying the failings of others – see any post-match interview with an EPL manager for different bias blind spots.

But Guardiola’s strange selections are going further still, as if he’s falling for the gambler’s fallacy; i.e. only the cleverest people know that if a tossed coin turns heads five times in a row, then the sixth time will definitely turn tails, which is of course nonsense. And perhaps only the most intelligent manager knows that if a regular line-up is flipped before a key fixture, then he alone will be ready to reap the rewards.

It’s a stretch, maybe, but the gambler’s fallacy is essentially the erroneous belief that a certain outcome must occur based on past events, no matter how daft, so one’s final choices should be changed accordingly. Listen to any football punter for evidence of this. For further examples, there was Monaco in 2017, Liverpool in 2018, Tottenham in 2019, Lyon in 2020 and Chelsea in 2021. Guardiola has taken more bizarre punts than a drunken uncle outside Singapore Pools on a Saturday night.

And here he is again, signing the world’s greatest striker to play in the world’s greatest squad, which currently feels like Ozzy Osbourne playing with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Both are leaders in their respective fields, but the obvious clash of styles requires a versatile conductor in the middle of them, rather than sitting on the bench. De Bruyne must own the baton here, surely.

Haaland may not have joined the wrong club, but he feels like a “bias blind spot” for his manager; a gamble that only Guardiola can pull off, a tactical identity crisis that only he can fix.

Guardiola is asking more of himself than ever, the tortured genius utterly convinced that he has the ability to drop a Norwegian hornet onto his “happy flowers” without destroying them.

He is yet to succeed. The genius may be at work, but his team looks a little tortured.

Haaland may not have joined the wrong club, but he feels like a “bias blind spot” for his manager; a gamble that only Guardiola can pull off, a tactical identity crisis that only he can fix.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.

Follow the new EPL season with the “Footballing Weekly” show onYouTube,** [Spotify](https://open.spotify.com/episode/39ONdFuzFiL8lEySrZxjvx)and [Acast.**](https://shows.acast.com/footballing-weekly/episodes/blues-for-red-devils-funny-arteta-clip-spurs-to-beat-chelsea)

For more football news, visit ourFootball page on Yahoo!

You can also follow us onFacebook,Instagram,TikTokandTwitter. Also check out ourSoutheast Asia,Food, andGamingchannels on YouTube.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *