Pep Guardiola’s Biggest Challenge
The curtain has nearly closed on Pep Guardiola’s time at Bayern Munich and soon he will take over the reigns at Manchester City and start his story in the Premier League. Guardiola has proved himself a worthy manager at both Barcelona and Bayern, but his time at the Etihad will be very different from his previous experiences in Spain and Germany. This time, the Spaniard will not be inheriting a world class Barcelona side or the annual champions in Bayern Munich but a struggling and depleted Manchester City side.
Though City’s shortcomings in its squad are well known, not much of Guardiola’s other challenges are mentioned. The Premier League is a jungle of unpredictability as evidenced by Leicester’s extraordinary title success this season and Guardiola will be unaccustomed to such an immense battle for the title.
In Spain, it was a three horse title race with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid vying for the title along with Barcelona. Bayern Munich were the expected and deserving champions in Germany and in Guardiola’s tenure the Bavarian club had little challenge for the title.
The competitive ecosystem in England is very different in that there are many clubs capable of making sustainable runs for the title. Arsenal, for all their capitulations in the spring time, have a talented squad that can certainly win the league any season with a capable and experienced manager in Arsene Wenger. Much is made of the Gunners failing to capitalize on their obvious talent and taking the league by storm, but it is still an accomplishment to finish in the top four almost every year in such a competitive league. It would also be foolish to count Chelsea out. The London club have a solid squad with talent at every position that won the league just one year ago. A season of horror should give the squad motivation to perform better next campaign, especially with new manager Antonio Conte coming in. Another London club capable of winning the league is Tottenham. Tottenham have shocked everyone as their transformation into the high press and fluid attack has made them one of the most potent teams in the league. Another year under Mauricio Pochettino should bring even more success.
Manchester United have a squad full of experienced youth and though Louis van Gaal is regarded near universally as a failure, his Red Devils grind out results and can still challenge for a top four spot. The new year has been kind to Liverpool as Jurgen Klopp seems to have gotten his whole squad on the same page whilst also being extremely motivated and hard working on the pitch. The Reds have scored the most goals in all of the Premier League in 2016 and with a summer of new signings and many departures as well as a full preseason for the team under Klopp, Liverpool look capable of challenging for a top four spot.
It would also be unwise to count Leicester out as their title winning campaign has proved that the squad makes up in chemistry and work rate what it may lack in talent. Ranieri’s concise tactics have played to the squad’s strengths but for how long the Foxes will keep overachieving is anyone’s guess. Similar to Leicester but in a lesser degree is Slaven Bilic’s West Ham side. The Hammers have qualified for Europe and have played impressive football as well beaten some huge clubs this campaign. The move to the Olympic Stadium should galvanize the team to aspire to similar success next campaign.
Based on this season alone, Manchester City and Guardiola will have a grand total of seven challengers for the Premier League title. Even then, clubs like Everton, Stoke City, and Crystal Palace have underperformed, meaning that if West Ham and Leicester were to fade next campaign, Everton, Stoke, and Palace could certainly play well enough to fulfill the roles of top four challengers.
The money coming into the Premier League will also make mid table clubs even better as they will be able to acquire players of real quality that could transform their teams. Just look at West Ham’s Payet.
Pep will no longer be in a league dominated by just two or three massive clubs or a division ruled by just one giant. He will step into a league that is known for its parity and is always chaotic and enthralling. Every point is unpredictable and each team must scrap for every chance. Making the recently wealthy Citizens a true contender and a club for the history books will be the Spaniard’s hardest challenge yet.