Guardiola abandons title hopes as Man City fall apart again
Everton expose problems throughout the Blues as manager suffers worst league defeat of career
Pep Guardiola has admitted that his Manchester City side will not win the Premier League this season after they were humbled 4-0 by Everton.
The score represents the worst league defeat of Guardiola's managerial career and adds to the pressure on the Spaniard, who has found it hard to adapt to life in the Premier League.
City are now fifth in the table, two points behind fourth-placed Arsenal and ten off leaders Chelsea.
Asked if he had scaled back his ambitions for the season, which had included winning the title, Guardiola said yes, adding that the ten-point gap to Chelsea looked insurmountable.
The Spaniard made it clear he still had ambitions to finish in second place, but that could also be beyond City if their performance against Everton is anything to go by.
It was a game that highlighted the "deepening woes of Guardiola, who appears to be building on foundations of sand", says Oliver Kay of The Times, who notes that since the end of September City have taken 24 points from 15 matches.
City's problems are "glaringly obvious" he says. "It is not just Claudio Bravo, a goalkeeper whose supposed competence with the ball at his feet does not in any way compensate for how little he gets his hands to it. A goalkeeper as vulnerable as Bravo needs protection – and City give him none whatsoever."
The defence is porous and without structure, the midfield is lethargic and in attack City have lost their speed and intensity, says Kay. "From a team who swept all before them in their opening weeks under Guardiola, the sense of regression has been shocking."
Those criticisms are reiterated by BBC pundit Phil Neville, who notes that City have conceded 14 goals from the past 22 shots on their goal.
"Teams do not need to create many chances to get past City," he says. "That is a criticism of their back four and their goalkeeper, but another reason they have fallen off the pace in the title race is their lack of threat going forward.
"They are pretty predictable in attack and, in the Premier League, they are finding it hard to score goals against well-organised defences. That means more pressure is being heaped on their own back four."
With goals for teenagers Ademola Lookman and Tom Davies it was a result to leave Evertonians "dreaming of a bright future", says Dominic King of the Daily Mail, but there were warning signs for City who showed "a startling lack of character and leadership".
"They were spineless – and do not doubt how much they are in need of major surgery," he says.
That surgery may have to be carried out fast if they are to qualify for the Champions League says Paul Wilson of The Guardian. Never mind the title race, "a more pressing concern is whether City will even make the top four", he warns.
"Right now it could be said that of all the top six they appear most likely to miss out... Guardiola is in charge of the Premier League version of the girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead. Everyone knows City can be very, very good, but when they are bad, they are horrid."
Is idealist Pep Guardiola running out of time at Man City?
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has admitted that "long-term projects don't exist in football" and believes he will face the sack unless he can get his side's form back on track.
The Spaniard has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks and been ridiculed for some of his claims in press conferences.
City remain fourth in the Premier League and while still in the Champions League, their form has dipped badly in recent weeks. They won their first ten games of the season but have seen victory in only four out of 15 games since the end of September.
Against that run of results, which culminated in defeat to Leicester at the weekend, Guardiola has admitted he needs to improve.
"The reality is that you have to win," he said ahead of tonight's game against Watford. "When I came here, I knew I had to win, immediately. It is unfair in many cases, but you know the big companies in the world - if something doesn't work, you have to find a solution."
Having favoured idealism over pragmatism throughout his career, Guardiola has accepted he must "swot up on English football", says Paul Wilson of The Guardian.
He adds: "He may have glowing credentials as the best coach in the world but he has never worked in this country and it is beginning to show."
How much pressure he is actually under is unclear. "City's owners spent four years trying to entice Guardiola to the Etihad Stadium and the firm expectation is that the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach will be given time to implement the changes he wants to make in the hope of turning the club into a serious force domestically and in Europe," says James Ducker of the Daily Telegraph.
After the Leicester defeat at the weekend, in which Jamie Vardy scored a hat-trick, Guardiola both defended centre-back John Stones, who was awarded two out of ten for his performance by the Manchester Evening News, and showed a "flippant disregard" to questions about City's tackling, telling reporters "I'm not a coach for tackles".
His words "are bound to infuriate those City fans who have begun to doubt the Messianic status which Guardiola was awarded when he led the team to ten straight wins at the start of the season", says the paper's Stuart Brennan.
However, there could be method in his madness. "You have to think that this is just part of his grand plan," continues the journalist. "Backed by belief in himself and his methods, he preferred to talk rot and ensure that the headlines were about him."
But no matter how skilfully Guardiola turns the spotlight away from his players and on to his own shaven head, there is no denying things are not turning out as he planned.
The "penny dropped" after he watched the mayhem of Crystal Palace and Swansea, says Oliver Kay of The Times. The game ended 5-4, with eight goals from set-pieces, and Guardiola has finally accepted he will "have to adapt".
He "had hoped that it would not be like this", says Kay: "He had hoped to develop a playing style so refined that it would allow City to rise above the need to do the ugly stuff. Sometimes it will, but it is far easier said than done in the Premier League."
With the trip to Watford and the hectic Christmas programme to come, the Man City manager is discovering that the English game is, after all, "tougher than he thought".