Manchester City and Pep Guardiola facing defining week against Chelsea, PSG and Liverpool

The leaves are only just starting to turn brown and yet Manchester City’s week ahead looks like a defining one.

It’s too early in the season to suggest a trio of away fixtures against Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool are make-or-break for Pep Guardiola’s team, but they will offer us more clues as to City’s true state.

There’s something absurd about even hinting a team that have already thrashed Norwich and Arsenal 5-0, won away at Leicester and stuffed six goals past RB Leipzig are in any kind of trouble.


Pep Guardiola was left frustrated as Manchester City were held goalless by Southampton

Raheem Sterling shows his frustration in a rare low-key afternoon for the reigning champions


But with Guardiola taking aim at City’s fans and then his own players, plus injuries mounting up, there’s undoubtedly a bit of tension in the air.

If City emerge from this fiendishly tricky eight day spell with two or even three victories, then all early season concerns will be blown away.

They will be well on their way to the knockout stages of the Champions League as they bid to go one better than last season and they’ll have made a resounding statement to those pretenders to their Premier League crown.

But drop too many points and there will be hard graft ahead in Europe and ground to make up at home, where Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United all look like genuine challengers again.

Having opened the season with defeat at Tottenham, City dropped points for the second time in Saturday’s goalless draw with Southampton at the Etihad.

Jack Grealish reacts at the end of Saturday’s goalless draw but the real test is just beginning

Phil Foden rues the late Raheem Sterling goal against the Saints ruled out for offside by VAR

Man City fixtures 

Premier League unless stated

Saturday Chelsea (A)

September 28 PSG (A)

Champions League

October 3 Liverpool (A)

October 16 Burnley (H)

October 19 Club Brugge (A)

Champions League

October 23 Brighton (A)


Astonishingly, City mustered just one shot on target and that didn’t arrive until the 90th minute. Raheem Sterling saw a late ‘winner’ ruled offside following a lengthy VAR review to leave Guardiola looking heavenwards in exasperation.

The truth was they looked off-colour, were sloppy in possession and lacked their usual attacking spark, also getting away with a VAR penalty call when Kyle Walker bundled Adam Armstrong over in the box.

As Sterling, Jack Grealish and Gabriel Jesus struggled to click, it was very easy to categorise the game as one a world class striker like Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku or Erling Haaland would have salvaged.

Jesus just hasn’t matched the high standards expected of him when he signed in 2017 and with Sergio Aguero now gone and City’s summer pursuit of Kane unsuccessful, they do look a finisher light.

It is a notion that sounds absurd in the context of 16 goals scored in the three home games prior to Southampton and another six hammered in against Wycombe in the Carabao Cup.

But Guardiola may well sense his team are lacking a born goalscorer to drag them through those days when all the intricate manoeuvres and pretty patterns don’t bear fruit.

Despite the poor shooting stats, Guardiola oddly took aim afterwards at his defence and midfielder Fernandinho. ‘The five guys who have to bring the ball to the other players were not good,’ he moaned.

‘Football depends a lot on how good we do the build-up and when that happens our strikers and wingers play better.

Fernandinho was singled out for criticism by Guardiola after the draw with Southampton

Guardiola summoned Kyle Walker over for one of his intense tactical chats on the touchline

‘Kyle Walker has been with us many years, Ruben Dias last year was exceptional and we have been with Dinho [Fernandinho] how many years?

‘They know the tactic exactly, they know it perfectly.’

Walker was on the receiving end of one of Guardiola’s classic tactical bombardments during the Southampton game after being summoned over to the touchline.

It followed similarly animated rants at Grealish and Riyad Mahrez for not tracking back during the win over Leipzig the previous week.

These very public dressing-downs are nothing new for Guardiola but suggest not everyone is grasping every element of his game plan. ‘Fights happen,’ said Guardiola.

True enough but his fight with City’s own fanbase last week also hinted that everything isn’t exactly hunky dory.

Riyad Mahrez received a very public dressing down from Pep Guardiola for not tracking back enough during Manchester City’s 6-3 Champions League win over RB Leipzig

Jack Grealish was also on the receiving end of some tough tactical love at the Etihad Stadium

Jack Grealish: ⚽️🅰️
Riyad Mahrez: ⚽️

It doesn’t matter how well you’re playing, if you don’t do your defensive duties Pep Guardiola will tell you all about it 😤#UCL

— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) September 15, 2021

Guardiola was annoyed that only 38,062 spectators attended the Leipzig game at the 53,400-capacity Etihad Stadium.

‘The last three games we’ve played here we’ve scored 16 goals. I would like more people to come to the next game on Saturday. We need the people, please, because we will be tired,’ he said.

This drew a response from Kevin Parker, the general secretary of City’s official supporters’ club, who said: ‘He’s absolutely the best coach in the world but, in the nicest possible way, I think maybe he should stick to that.

‘To question the support, which is effectively what he is doing, is disappointing and uncalled for.’

But Guardiola refused to back down or apologise and even threatened to walk away from the club. ‘If I have a problem with the fans I’ll make a step aside. It’s not a problem for me. I am one of them,’ he said.

Guardiola was highly critical of City fans after 17,000 empty seats at the Etihad against Leipzig

It’s likely City will only have another two seasons of Guardiola anyway as they attempt to add a first Champions League title to plenty of domestic silverware.

At the start of the season, the 50-year-old suggested he will leave when his current contract expires in 2023 and seek a national team job.

‘After seven years on this team, I think I’m going to have a stop,’ he said.

It seems pretty early for that revelation to be having an effect on matters on and off the pitch at City but eventually a succession plan will be needed and it’s always disruptive.

As Guardiola guides his side towards a tough trio of games, injuries have dealt him a huge blow.

Key defenders John Stones and Aymeric Laporte look set to miss the next fortnight with muscle and hip problems respectively.

City are likely to be without injured defenders Aymeric Laporte and John Stones for the trio of testing fixtures 

It will leave Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake to face the likes of Lukaku, Mohamed Salah, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe.

Midfielders Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri are also nursing problems and Oleksandr Zinchenko has a calf issue so preparation is far from ideal.

Guardiola’s City won the Premier League title by 12 points last season, took the Carabao Cup and came close to adding the Champions League.

It’s already apparent things will be far more difficult this time around and the next three games will tell us how robust City are to meet that challenge.