Unlike some of his peers, Pep Guardiola does not indulge in what the media like to call ‘Mind Games’ when, in reality, they amount to nothing more than pernicious, petulant, posturing from those who can’t match the sheer genius of the Manchester City manager.
Guardiola is the very personification of integrity in a game – an industry – riddled by corruption, deceit and an all-encompassing sense of self-serving.
So, when he’s pressed on his team’s chances of a unique quadruple and going undefeated en-route to the Premier League title, people would be wise to take his words at face value.
“It is not going to happen,” is Guardiola’s consistent, pragmatic, and one surmises, sincere response.
It’s a view shared by the overwhelming majority of City supporters – a historic fan base more used to their team snatching defeat from the jaws of victory – who, even as City sit 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League, don’t believe the title is in the bag.
Granted, it would take an implosion on a gargantuan scale, a calamitous collapse of hitherto unseen proportions which would surpass any previous ‘Typical City’ cock-ups, were City not to be crowned Champions between now and May 13th, but Pep and the diehard Blues won’t celebrate until the deed is done.
Much has been made of City’s spending power in the transfer market, most laughingly by the joke that is Jose – moaning Maureen – the Not So Special One, with a face like the slapped arse of an indigenous Portuguese Bisaro Pig.
According to the Snide Sneer from Setubal, City spend the same amount on full backs as other team’s spend on strikers.
Would that be the £45m outlay on Kyle Walker and the £49m on Benjamin Mendy, contrasted with the reputed £90m package splashed out by Mourinho on Romelu Lukaku?
Or maybe jumbled up Jose meant the £32m spent on United full right back Luke Shaw, or the £30m+ on stand-in full back Victor Lindelof, when compared to the £27m City spent on Gabriel Jesus?
It’s an easy mistake to make when you’re floundering around in a swamp, looking for a spare £300m stuffed in the back of the settee.
City’s incredible season thus far, is all the more so, when you consider the impact of Guardiola’s much publicised £200m summer spend.
Of the five players brought in, only the superb ‘Rock Steady Eddie’ Ederson in goal and Walker have been first team regulars.
Benjamin Mendy made only three-and-a bit Premier League appearances and a Champions League start at Feyenoord, before being ruled out until April with a crippling anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Bernardo Silva has started just five of City’s 22 league games thus far with a further 14 showings from the bench. Clearly a class act at just 23-years of age, the Portuguese playmaker is still adjusting to English football, but he’s been nowhere near as influential as Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva in City’s surge to the top.
Pep’s fifth summer signing, Danilo, is clearly more of a squad member, a utility player who can fill-in along the backline, a role reflected by only six league starts this term.
The critics can’t even point to City having had the luxury of being injury free, as they’ve gone on record-breaking and record-equalling runs.
Mendy’s likely six month absence is well documented, John Stones has missed a dozen games with a hamstring injury,whereas Captain Vincent Kompany has mustered just nine league starts as his muscular injury mishaps refuse to go away.
There’s a strong suspicion Sergio Aguero is still not 100% after a car crash in Amsterdam, which could so easily have been far worse than just cracked ribs.
Even 17-year old Phil Foden, fresh from winning the Under-17 World Cup with England and being acclaimed as the BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year, has missed a month and more first team opportunities, due to injury.
More recently, there’s David Silva’s ongoing emotional challenges as his new born baby boy, Mateo battles for health, strength and survival after being born prematurely.
Football is important, but it pales into insignificance when set against the essence of life itself.
El Mago carries the love, thoughts, prayers and positive hopes of every City fan, as he, his family and the Spanish medical teams strive to ensure Mateo wins through.
Set against that litany of physical damage and mental anguish, City’s rise to prominence can hardly be attributed to good fortune, albeit ‘luck’ has played a perverse role in recent games.
Pep can count himself lucky to still have the services of Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gundagon after all three were subjected to what amounted to assaults, rather than bona fide tackles.
As City Blues, we’re not overly enamoured with anything red, but four red cards wouldn’t have gone amiss for Messrs Harry Kane and Dele Alli of Spurs, Jacob Murphy of Newcastle and Jason Puncheon of Palace, as City’s stars have been scythed down amid bully-boy antics and tactics.
Dubious decisions and rank bad refereeing were the bane of Pep’s debut season in English football.
Despite a truly wondrous second season, nobody could accuse Guardiola of not having substance to any gripes against woeful officials.
Karma was quick to make an appearance in 2018, with news that Puncheon and fellow Palace thug, Scott Dann, had incurred season ending injuries while perpetrating fouls on KDB.
Meanwhile, ‘Our Kev’, recovered after being stretchered off at Selhurst Park, to help orchestrate City’s 20th Premier League win of the season over Watford on Tuesday night.
In a show of commendable diplomacy and restraint, Guardiola has called for referee’s to afford the right levels of protection to football’s flair players – not just those in City’s colours.
Despite Pep’s constant rebuttals about a quadruple, he is committed to fielding his ‘strongest team possible’ against Burnley in the FA Cup 3rd Round tie at a sold-out Etihad Stadium.
Mendy, Kompany, Foden and Jesus are all definite non-starters and there is a doubt as to whether Silva will play. Pep has reiterated his stance on El Mago, offering Merlin as much compassionate leave as he requires at such a sensitive time – just as it should be!
It’s bound to be a tough encounter with Sean Dyche’s ‘high-flyers’ – the surprise package in the Premier League – with the Clarets sitting in an unlikely seventh spot in the table.
The fixtures keep on coming thick and fast, and next up is the 1st leg of the League Cup semi final with Bristol City at the Etihad on Tuesday night.
Once again, Guardiola will be guarding against any hint of complacency, as City seek to build a good advantage before the return leg on January 23rd.
Whether or not City will draft in reinforcements this month, in the shape of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal and Inigo Martinez from Real Sociedad, remains unknown.
It’s hard to see how a prospective £50m+ investment in the pair would be anything but a good move – both short and long term – especially with Kompany’s recurring problems and Jesus sidelined for up to six weeks.
Bolstering City’s free-scoring attack (64 scored in the PL) and miserly defence (13 conceded) – both unsurprisingly ranked 1st in the PL – could be the difference between one or multiple trophies as Pep lets the actions of his team speak louder than his words – no matter how well chosen.
By David Walker
Read But Never Red teamed up with the Art of Football to give readers the chance to win a superb piece of City artwork.
All you had to do was name your favourite City player of the season thus far, and select a print from one of three stunning designs featuring Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and the Blue Moon.
The winner – selected at random – is Barbara Xavier a Lady Blue in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Barbara selected David Silva as her City favourite and chose the Blue Moon print as her prize. Congratulations Barbara and thanks to everyone who entered.
While obviously wishing all our readers and City fans a Happy Blue New Year, we need to convey our heartfelt condolences, sympathy and empathy to Blue Brothers Pete and Paul Lockwood following the passing of their Dad, David – another True Blue – on New Year’s Day.
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu