Pep Guardiola emitted a deep exhale after the realisation that his team would be treated to a rare free week before travelling to Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park.
The rest ultimately served Guardiola’s side well as City returned to action with a 1-0 victory in south London. However, the reigning champions had to rely upon a second-half penalty from Erling Haaland to get over the line and shrink the gap up to Arsenal at the Premier League summit.
Any future free weeks depend on City’s success in the Champions League and FA Cup. However, here’s what lies ahead for Guardiola’s side as things stand.
Guardiola was so concerned about the threat RB Leipzig offered in transition that City almost lapsed into a caricature of their possession-obsession selves in the first leg.
It worked up to a point as Leipzig didn’t attempt their first shot of the contest until first-half stoppage time but sloppiness crept into City’s game after the interval, giving Josko Gvardiol – ironically nicknamed Pep because of their similar surnames – the chance to cancel out Riyad Mahrez’s opener from a second-half corner.
Without the complication of away goals, it’s winner-takes-all at the Etihad in midweek.
Not many opposition managers have the luxury of taking their team to an away ground which has a statue of themselves sitting outside. But that is the fate that awaits Vincent Kompany when Burnley travel to the Etihad in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
The Clarets are flying high at the top of the Championship, playing possession-based football which serves as a stark contrast to the approach Sean Dyche espoused for so many years (with great success it should be stressed).
While Mikel Arteta is currently getting the better of Guardiola in the Premier League, can the Catalan fend off another one of his disciples?
Only one manager has racked up more than seven career wins against Guardiola throughout his senior management career. Jurgen Klopp has beaten him 12 times.
Klopp has achieved two of those victories this season alone, steering Liverpool to a Community Shield win against City all the way back in July as well as a Premier League triumph at Anfield in October. That league win threatened to reignite Liverpool’s title charge but the Reds will limp into this contest after the March international break embroiled in a scrap for fourth – though that’s not to say that Klopp can’t add to his winning tally.
One of the few nights that Southampton lived up to the lofty billing which Nathan Jones gave himself came against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup. Guardiola conceded that his side had been comfortably outplayed. “The best team won,” he shrugged. “They were better.”
Jones, of course, is no longer in the St Mary’s dugout – although, his replacement Ruben Selles recorded more Premier League wins in his first three games (two) than Jones managed throughout his entire tenure (one).
Less than three years ago, Leicester became the first team to ever score as many as five league goals against a side managed by Guardiola away from home. It may not seem like an awfully long time ago but the fact that Jamie Vardy scored a hat-trick that day adds some temporal perspective.
The veteran Vardy has mustered just one Premier League goal in a poor individual season amid a disappointing collective campaign for the Foxes. However, City had to rely upon a stunning Kevin De Bruyne free-kick to nudge themselves ahead of Leicester when the sides played out an even contest at the King Power Stadium.
A month before Roberto De Zerbi was appointed as Brighton‘s manager, the Italian tactician was pictured dining alongside Guardiola. There is a deep mutual respect between the pair with Guardiola insisting: “His impact in England will be massive.”
When they faced each other for the first time in October, De Zerbi’s Brighton lost 3-1 but caused their hosts a myriad of problems and limited City to just 48% possession. It is the only time Guardiola’s side have had less of the ball at the Etihad this season. Strap in for another enthralling watch in April.
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