Pep Guardiola is building a contender even if Manchester City won't win this year

From the looks of it, you might be tempted to believe that Manchester City re-entered the Premier League title race on Monday with the untroubled 2-0 away win at Bournemouth.

With three straight wins, City has righted a ship that had gone way off course in a December and January when Pep Guardiola’s side lost four league matches and tied another one in nine contests. And just like that, thanks to the profligacy of the rest of the chasing pack, City leaped from fifth to second place in the span of just two games. Chelsea is still sort of within reach, eight points ahead.

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“The gap is still long,” Guardiola said. “It’s always so, so difficult with not a lot of games. This gap is too big.”

Barring an unimaginable collapse from the Chelsea machinery, City won’t be champion this year, even though it led the league for the first 10 rounds of games. Guardiola’s team, finally put in his charge after the club spent a half decade pursuing him, may not even place second. It doesn’t actually much matter whether you come second, third or fourth. They all get you to the Champions League – although that last spot adds the liability of a playoff round.

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City has been too inconsistent, too thin in the midfield, too shaky in the back, too calamity-prone in goal. It has lost games to Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea and Liverpool. And that’s OK. If you want to win the league, splitting your games with the other big clubs will do fine.

But you have to be efficient against the smaller teams. And City also lost to a collapsing Leicester City – the languid defending champions – and gotten creamed 4-0 by a ho-hum Everton. City has spilled further points against Southampton and Middlesbrough – at home, no less. That’s not how you become champions.

Pep Guardiola
Guardiola has reason to smile. (Reuters)

Yet in recent weeks, it’s become clear that Guardiola has figured out a formula. With the attacking trident of the newly arrived Brazilian 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus, flanked by the 21-year-old Leroy Sane and the 22-year-old Raheem Sterling, City has diced through opponents without any concern for the physical or psychological well-being lately. Behind them, Kevin De Bruyne is the ideal connector and creator.

The rest should fall into place. If Ilkay Gundogan regains his health and pre-knee injury skill, and if Fernandinho can stop taking red cards, that’s the rest of the midfield mostly built – although it needs more depth. The defense, well, there’s some work to do there. And the bright side is that expensive signing John Stones is still only 22.

But these are surmountable issues. And with the sort of attacking five City will have for a long time to come – De Bruyne is only 25; Gundogan 26 – there’s a lot that can be compensated for.

And you could see of those young weapons in action Monday in a straightforward win that clearly turned around Guardiola’s mood, which has often been dour lately.

“Our performance was much, much, much better,” Guardiola said. “In general, I’m so happy with our performance.”

Gabriel Jesus was injured in the ninth minute in an awkward collision with Simon Francis. That brought the recently exiled Sergio Aguero back on, as the arrival of Jesus has cast the Argentine – perhaps the best player in club history, and certainly its most important striker in the Premier league era – to the bench.

Sometime City goalkeeper Willy Caballero made a big slide-tackle save on Jordon Ibe in the 19th minute to prevent an early deficit.

Sterling was somehow denied a goal in the 26th minute, when his wide-open shot was somehow blocked by Steve Cook and deflected off the post. But three minutes later, he got on the scoresheet. Sane steamed up the left. His cross was deflected, also by Cook, but this time it skipped into the path of Sterling, who had a tap-in at the far post.

The following minute, Joshua King seemed to have scored with an emphatic finish, but he’d shoved off John Stones to get himself free and it was quite rightly disallowed

It would take until the 69th minute for City to secure its security goal. This time it was Sterling to cut inside from the left. He dribbled around several defenders and cut back for Aguero. He seemed to have dinked the ball in, but defender Tyrone Mings got a piece of it as well and was later adjudged to have touched it last – for an own goal.

While Caballero was strong in his defense of City’s goal, Mings nearly gave away another for Bournemouth. In a silly moment in his own box, he tried to dribble out of trouble. Mane stole the ball but smashed his shot off the bar.

City’s win was all too comfortable against a slumping Bournemouth. And while it vaulted the Sky Blues into second place, it’s unlikely to derail Chelsea’s churn to the title.

But in the process, Guardiola’s City is seemingly preparing a title assault for next season.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.


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