His strikers “have to be aggressive and pick the ball up, but didn’t at this crucial time,” Guardiola complained, before adding: “That’s why we are out.”
He then turned on his players as a collective, insisting they had failed to take on board and implement his tactical masterplan.
“I tried to convince them in all the meetings we had to come here, try to attack and score,” he said. “My mistake was being not able to convince them to do that.”
Even though, Guardiola referred to “my mistake,” it did not seem a particularly genuine mea culpa. Instead, the City manager was angry and exasperated, carrying the air of a man let down by a group of players who, quite simply, were not — and are not — as good as he is.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach has the authority to separate himself from culpability and blame his players because, as he has told us already this season, he “won 21 trophies in seven years, guys,” so he knows what it takes to be successful.
But the message that a manager conveys in public matters, especially in the modern world of super-wealthy, ego-driven footballers, and it is rare for anyone to go down the route of blaming his players so openly, unless he considers it to be the nuclear option once all else has failed.
Guardiola’s approach is interesting when compared to that of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, whose team visit City on Sunday aiming to cement their position in the top four.
Klopp is another A-list coach, whose combination of personality and achievement ensures instant respect in the dressing room. However, he also knows that, for that impression to be maintained, it has to be cherished and nurtured.
The ego of the Liverpool manager is by no means insignificant and, like Guardiola, he can be patronising when speaking to the media or discussing the volume of noise coming from the supporters but, crucially, Klopp acknowledges that he and his players are in it together.
Last month, for example, he admitted that the buck stopped with him as Liverpool’s push for the top four began to stutter: “I feel maximum responsible because I am. And I hope I use the word ‘we’ and not ‘they’ because I am involved in this.”
Klopp also raised his hand earlier this season to admit his own shortcomings, when speaking of his realisation that the training methods he initially adopted, after taking charge in October 2015, were not conducive to success in the Premier League.
“When I came here,” Klopp said. “The players had a few days off. I changed it and said: ‘How can they have three or four days off or something?’ It was a silly decision, but it was only because I was not used to it.”
Guardiola, by contrast, has yet to admit to being wrong on anything significant since arriving in England, even though he has undoubtedly made mistakes.
When the dust settles on his first season in charge, his decision to replace goalkeeper Joe Hart with the error-prone Claudio Bravo may ultimately prove to be the primary reason for City’s failure to win the Premier League title. Not only because of Bravo’s mistakes, but also because of the uncertainty that his presence created in defenders.
Guardiola has also failed to rectify City’s problems at full-back, despite having ample time to identify and address the issue prior to his arrival, while he continues to irritate supporters by constantly referring to the club’s lack of pedigree in European competition.
Klopp, meanwhile, has tuned into the Liverpool fan base and visibly connects with his players on the pitch. The collective spirit is evident at Liverpool, but that is not the case at City, where Guardiola, allied with director of football Txiki Begiristain and chief executive Ferran Soriano — two former Barcelona colleagues — cuts a more aloof figure.
Hart has been cut adrift, Sergio Aguero has been taken down from his pedestal as the club’s star player, Yaya Toure was forced to spend weeks on the sidelines because of comments made by his agent, and captain Vincent Kompany now must accept life as a travelling member of the squad who rarely, if ever, gets called upon to play.
Klopp has been similarly ruthless with Mamadou Sakho — perhaps to the team’s detriment — by refusing to select the defender for disciplinary reasons and then sending him on to Crystal Palace in January, but the Liverpool manager has also made several of his players better: Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino, for example, have been transformed.
Liverpool will end this season empty-handed, perhaps with a top-four finish as consolation, while City may yet win the FA Cup and earn Champions League football. If that proves to be the case, Klopp will be deemed a success, but only a dramatic surge to the title will be viewed as being up to the standards of Guardiola.
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