Six months ago, City conquered global football. A treble was Pep’s prize for creating one of the best sides of late. While they’ve had a fine Champions League campaign so far, they seem hungover in the Prem.
City’s sustained success over the past decade was driven by the necessity of winning the Champions League. Now that they’ve won it, what’s next?
The last time City won a game in the Prem was early November. Since then, they’ve drawn three games and lost one. It’s true that they’ve had a tougher schedule to start the season, but last season’s City doesn’t drop points against Chelsea or Villa.
Losing Gündoğan may be the biggest player issue for City this season, but the team should have managed it better. It does scream of arrogance to decide not to replace such a key player and instead add attackers with no room for them. Pep can work miracles, but this whole season has felt like everyone is on cruise control.
City may very well win this title again, or even the Champions League, but something is off. Perhaps City is finally feeling the disease of more.
Of their nine wins, only three have come against teams in the top half of the table. Only Wolves can be seen as a truly terrible loss, otherwise they’ve tied or lost against tough sides.
Fans will argue that City’s schedule doomed them to a difficult start. Unquestionably the Prem dished out quite the start, but Pep could have guided his side better. You can excuse some of their bad results to good sides, but a team of this caliber shouldn’t be losing to Wolves or drawing Chelsea.
In the Champions League, they’re as dominant as ever, albeit a bit boring. Their weak group ensured their progress to the next stage. It’s hard to tell if Pep is placing more winning back to back European titles over another Prem title.
Boring football combined with a sort of apathy is pushing City away from what has made them a great side to watch. The season is, of course, long and betting against City is often foolish. However, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t the most vulnerable Pep’s side has looked.
While they aren’t in the same spot as Chelsea or United, even the most optimistic fan will struggle to argue this is a positive start. City have it in them to turn this around, but losses to Villa and ties to Tottenham and Liverpool make it harder to believe that.
Pat Riley is one of the most influential basketball minds ever and his insight on the “disease of more” has been applied to teams all over. After conquering all there is, City can be diagnosed with this illness.
Essentially, when a team has won all that there is to win, the drive to win more titles is gone. Replacing that desire is either focus on individual goals or the notion that they can just rerun things and all will be the same. Apathy and selfishness replace unity.
It’s a wide definition and not every team fits it to a t, but it’s useful when discussing great teams faltering. For example, the decline of the Golden State Warriors has fans asking if the team is suffering from this.
There’s nothing to suggest that individual narratives are to blame for City’s regression. However, it’s true that certain players have struggled this season. Kevin de Bruyne’s injury was always going to hurt, but Kovačić is yet to find the form he had at Chelsea.
Kalvin Phillips is a bust with Pep failing to get anything from him. The Manuel Akanji midfield experiment is wild and just clogs the middle. Ederson’s flaws glare week by week, as the backline continues to struggle.
Besides them, most of the team is still at least meeting their expectations. Perhaps the only exciting part of this team is Jérémy Doku. The natural winger oozes skill, dazzling on the wing and just being a threat to open the field.
Pep’s tinkering forces Doku to the right back position, where he has still played well. Doku’s shift to that position says more about Pep just trying to find ways to win with this team.
At their best, City are still the best side of Euroope, but how much longer can this apathy last? Pep has won all there is to win with two different squads, what else is left for him? Perhaps Arsenal beating them to the title is what the club needs, or the disease of more may take this club down.
There’s little else City has left to conquer and that may be rubbing off on the team. When you’ve done everything, what other fulfillment is left?
Arsenal have their best chance at the title in years with this stalling City. It’s a team that has won everything waiting for some motivation. As terrible as the way they look, Pep’s boys can still turn the switch and conquer the world once more.