Guardiola did not recognize City before the shocking change of course

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Pep Guardiola said that Manchester City “was not the team I can recognize” during their struggles earlier in the season.

A loss to Tottenham in November left them languishing 11th in the Premier League, with José Mourinho’s men at the top.

Spurs visit the Etihad Stadium on Saturday to face a City team that has not lost in 22 games in all competitions since that game and is five points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Discussing a notable change, Guardiola did not think that the setback at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was the turning point.

Perhaps more damningly, he felt the lowest point came the following month, when City followed a 0-0 draw in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford by being drawn 1-1 at home by West Brom – relegation threatened opponents who still fired manager Slaven Bilic after taking that point.

“To be specific, it was after the West Bromwich game,” Guardiola said. “We could have won with two incredible chances at the end, but after that game, I felt like this is not the team that I can recognize. I didn’t like what I saw, I didn’t like what I saw.

“We talked and said, okay, we have to go back to our first beginning. We had to rebuild the team from that point. What we are as a team, how we were successful in the past.

“We had to get back to our game, move the ball faster, make more passes, stay in position, run less with the ball, do it together. We don’t have a specific player to win games, we have to do it together.

“But above all that was the commitment of the players. They talked, they thought, it’s okay, we have to do more and they did it ”.

The results have been surprising, with City winning each of their subsequent 15 games, a historic record for a top-tier English club.

In the 15 games leading up to its ongoing streak, City won nine and drew five along with the loss of the Spurs.

The arrival of Ruben Dias had already gone a long way in propping up a humiliated defense during September’s 5-2 loss to Leicester City, with City raped six times during those 15 games. They have let in five during the winning race.

His expected goals (xG) actually went up from 7.1 to eight, with 10 clean sheets in each batch of games.

It is up front that Guardiola’s men have rediscovered their mojo despite the continued absence of club record scorer Sergio Agüero.

City’s 40 goals dwarf 25 of the previous 15 outings. Failures like Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling that Guardiola referenced in the West Brom draw are also a minor factor.

During that segment earlier in the season, City were below an xG of 27.7. With players like Premier League Player of the Month Gundogan (eight in 15 games), Sterling, Phil Foden (both six) and Gabriel Jesus (five) back on goals, they are clearly operating above an xG of 32, 9.

Tottenham’s season is heading sharply in the other direction.

They were eight points better than City after beating them, but their next 13 Premier League matches read they won four, drew four, lost five.

Counting the first division games from this period alone, City outscored Spurs 33-15, having played once again, claiming 38 points to Tottenham’s 16.

Guardiola’s baseline has been violated just three times since the league’s last loss and he faced 92 shots in an xG to 6.6. Mourinho’s men have faced 183 goal attempts and an xG against 15.91 is a touch higher than the 13 received.

Once again, the stormy and exciting back and forth that the spells of Guardiola and Mourinho at the head of Barcelona and Real Madrid marked will not be repeated in England, as it happened when the Portuguese settled on the other side of the city at Manchester United.

That is why, perhaps, Guardiola felt comfortable speaking cordially about his old rival.

“I have a good relationship with him, we can agree or disagree, but it is not a big problem,” he said.

“His business is Tottenham, or before United, mine is City. We have to manage our team and back-room staff and we don’t have time to find out what’s going on with the other club and we couldn’t care less.

“The only concern is what we have to do tomorrow.”

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