Pep Guardiola has warned Manchester City could miss out on the Champions League unless their current struggles give his side a much needed “shake up” after years of being purred over “like a cat”.
City have taken just three points from their past four Premier League outings, with Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa seeing them drop to fourth in the table, six points adrift of leaders Arsenal.
It is City’s longest winless streak since April 2017 during Guardiola’s debut season at the club and the Catalan believes it could be just the wake-up call his players need ahead of a tricky trip to Luton on Sunday.
Liverpool have already dropped points at Luton this season and only a dramatic 97th minute winner from Declan Rice prevented Arsenal from doing the same at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday.
“For a long time, we’ve lived like a cat – how good we are,” said Guardiola, stroking his head to emphasise his point. “We need it [these results] to say: ‘Guys, this business – it’s terrible, it’s terrible.’
“You are unbeatable and then ‘Oh my God, you cannot win one game’. From nothing. Maybe for myself first, I need that challenge to prove myself, that I’m a good manager. To help the players overcome that situation.”
“For the players it’s a good challenge to say: ‘Oh my God, Aston Villa were miles better than all of us.” That is the only thing that can put it [results] in the right place. Not [just] my words, that doesn’t work.
“Say, “Wow, Villa were better so imagine the other ones [clubs].” The club, all the organisation, [know] we can be out of the Champions League next season.”
He added: “We have to work hard. We need it after what happened in the last years. As soon as possible we’ll realise and we come out of here quicker. Otherwise nothing is going to change.
“The club needed it. One month ago I thought the club needed a shake, to be shaken. The bad results can help you to live that.
“I think for everyone it is good [to be] living what we are [currently] living. I would say I think it’s necessary [for us] to live that.”
All of City’s four defeats this season, including in the Carabao Cup to Newcastle, have come with Rodri missing through suspension while the Villa loss followed draws to Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs.
But Guardiola, while not disputing the Spain midfielder’s importance, said it was too “simplistic” to put those struggles down to the absence of one player.
The City manager – whose side have conceded 11 goals in their past five matches in all competitions – insisted complacency was not an issue but that the players had to look at the “hunger in the opponents” to dethrone the champions and use it as a motivating factor.
“It’s not about complacency,” he said. “Complacency is about arriving late to training, don’t do a good job, [having a] doesn’t-matter-what-happens [attitude].
“I’m talking about just the bad results – see how difficult is what we have done and what will be. The bad results help you to understand it.
“Four games without winning can be five, six. It can happen. We make standards that people want to be there. I see the hunger in the opponents. I see it. To recover that [hunger ourselves], we have to lose.
“The problem is if you lose, you lose competitions. But it’s necessary to live that. To realise that it’s not my words that can help or the accomplishments. It’s [the players] themselves on the pitch to say, ‘Oh my god, the opponents are much better.’ After [we do that], make a step forward. It’s the only way.”
‘I feel so sorry for Kalvin’
Despite the absence of Rodri – who will return at Luton – against Villa, Guardiola opted to start defenders Rico Lewis and John Stones in the base of the midfield over Kalvin Phillips.
The England midfielder has yet to start a Premier League game this season, and has done so only twice in total since signing from Leeds for £45 million 18 months ago.
Guardiola said he “feels so sorry” for Phillips but admitted he does not “visualise” the player in his team in words that may increase the likelihood of a move away in the transfer window next month. Newcastle and Juventus are among those interested.
“I don’t know what will happen [in January],” Guardiola said. “I feel so sorry for my decisions for him. He doesn’t deserve [me] not to give him minutes.
“I am asking for good personality, good character. After that I have to give him something – I didn’t do that. It’s just because I visualise something, I visualise the team and things, I struggle a little bit to see him [in that], that’s all. It’s not because I am not pleased. I feel so sorry for him.
“When a young guy behaves [badly], I don’t care. The way he behaves with his [team]-mates, I care. Hopefully, he can turn around and I have said many times, I don’t know what will happen in January. If he stays I am more than pleased because he trains really good and he is a lovely guy.
“It’s a business, in the end I have to act professional. When I act… winning is a good decision and when we don’t win it is a bad decision.”