Wherever he goes, Pep Guardiola has created monstrous, league destroying football teams. He did it in Spain, he did it in Germany and then he came to England and did it again. But for all that undeniable managerial talent and ability, the Spaniard has rarely created a great offense.
There is no denying Pep Guardiola’s success and ability as a manager. Few will not consider him as a part of modern football’s greats and many even consider him to be one of the all-time greats. And there is very little to fight against that argument especially if you base it purely on trophies. The Spaniard has somehow, over the years, managed to win, win and do nothing else but win that coveted silver shiny object numerous times, earning the plaudit.
From the fourteen he won during that incredible spell at Barcelona, a spell that included a treble and a double in a three year period where he won everything he could possibly win. Then, Guardiola went to Germany, to the Bundesliga and added seven more trophies there. No Champions League crown this time and that has been the stick to beat him and his legacy ever since. The same thing has happened at Manchester City with the 50-year-old winning eight trophies but no Champions League.
But even despite all that, there are few who would deny Guardiola his place in the history books and the Spaniard has rightfully earned it but right now, his Manchester City side, have a problem. Not the fact that they somehow, over the course of four months, managed to completely turnaround their season. Or the fact that he has finally learned how to build and create a solid defense without placing a midfielder in his back-line or even the fact that his midfield is finally balanced.
No, Manchester City’s real problem, right now, is the fact that their best solution to scoring goals is sitting on the bench. And that doesn’t look like it’s going to change with Sergio Aguero’s final touches in a City shirt, likely to come via him striding off the bench and trying to make something happen. It’s understandable when you consider how hellish the last year has been for the Argentine, with injuries plaguing him so badly that he broke a one year drought just before the international break.
This is Sergio Aguero we’re talking about, so even a two-game drought is immense but imagine how badly a one-year drought effected the forward. That drought came alongside a three-month spell where no football was played across most of Europe because of a lockdown but still. And yet with Raheem Sterling, with Gabriel Jesus, with Riyad Mahrez, with Bernardo Silva, with Kevin De Bruyne and a wide array of world-class talents, why should Manchester City worry?
At least that was one way of thinking and add Phil Foden to that mix during Project Restart and City really didn’t have a problem. Instead, they hounded and harassed teams although Jesus didn’t really showcase why he could replace Aguero. And therein lies the problem. The myth, or rather the thought process, is the fact that Pep Guardiola is a great man to have to sort out your offence.
He’ll get any team on the planet, after some adjustment, to score goals at an absurd rate as Manchester City’s last three years have showcased with them netting 303 goals. That’s an average of 101 goals a season which, even in the modern age, is simply ridiculous and absurd especially in the Premier League. But again, that’s beside the point because part of the myth assumes the fact that Guardiola could create a great offence and that’s where he has fallen short.
Even that Barcelona team that won the sextuple in Guardiola’s first eighteen months as a manager definitely had a world-class offensive line but it was handed down to him. He never signed the likes of Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, or even Samuel Eto but when handed the chance to rebuild it, Pep swapped Eto and some cash for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. That worked out so well, that Barcelona was forced to sign another striker a year later with Zlatan spending his second season out on loan.
But that second striker, aka David Villa, is Pep Guardiola’s only bonafide success when it comes to rebuilding an offense. Few will deny the Spanish forward his place in Barcelona history with him an integral part of that front three alongside Lionel Messi and Pedro. But it worked for a bit before Guardiola opted to push Cesc Fabregas forward and use him as a striker for a few games. Move over to Bayern Munich and once again, Guardiola is handed a treble-winning offensive line.
Now there is an argument to be made that Robert Lewandowski arrived a year into his tenure at the club but the deal, and the move, was in making for months with Guardiola playing a small part. The forward that Pep actually signed was Mario Gotze but once again that didn’t work out. Injuries, issues with form and what was later diagnosed as a metabolic disorder affected the German. But the evidence is there and then there is Gabriel Jesus at Manchester City. The Brazilian has done well for the club but that’s only when he has been used sparingly.
But as a center-forward, Jesus lacks that instinct and drive to get into the right areas in order for him to be that 30 goals forward. That more than anything has cost Manchester City a few games this season and it’s partly why Ilkay Gundogan is their top scorer this season. And that is a problem. That is most definitely a problem because it means that despite all Jesus’ potential and talent, he simply isn't anything close to Sergio Aguero's heir. And that means Manchester City need to go again.
That isn’t exactly the worst thing to do especially when reports, rumours and random transfer stories indicate that their targets are some of the best forwards in the world. But that is a small problem when the manager they have has, in the past, managed to turn even the best players into nothing more than mere shadows of themselves. It’s a problem and one that Guardiola has to solve if he ever wants to effectively replace a man who for ten years, never dropped below the 20 goal mark season in and season out.
Especially when your top scorer, this season, happens to be a central midfielder and when someone who should be your best goal-threat is failing to get into the team. So much so, that the entire team had to be reshuffled and built around a staunch defense by a manager who thrives on playing offensive football. And then, to make things even worse, Jesus has seen his place taken over by midfielders with a rotational queue now acting as a forward line for Manchester City.
Don't get it wrong because that has worked so well, that it has effectively become City's go-to formation this season with only Manchester United figuring out a way to cause them serious problems and run riot. But that only works when your genuine goal-threat in Ilkay Gundogan is scoring consistently and in the absurd reality that is the 2020/21 football season, nothing that happens here is here for the future. And that is a problem for the blue side of Manchester.
Especially, and to make things even worse, when someone who should be their second, or third given Aguero's positioning in the team, best goal-threat is now on the fringes of the team for some reason. It's a problem, especially when, Phil Foden lead the scoring charts for large portions of the season, and is still their fourth-highest goal-scorer so far this season. It’s a problem that Guardiola has always had trouble solving and now it feels like their only answer is Lionel Messi but even that is a gamble.
Even at 33-years old, there is little doubt that Messi could still do a job in the Premier League but the pressure and intensity of playing in a league with no winter break and with a clear physical difference between the La Liga makes it a gamble. Because no matter who Manchester City sign, the gamble is a big one and given that it is no ordinary mere mortal they are replacing but their greatest ever goal-scorer, the gamble is their future. And that is not a risk that City can afford especially not with the grandiose goals they have in mind.