In just the third game of this late-starting Premier League season, Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City side inflicted Pep Guardiola’s heaviest home defeat as Manchester City manager. The Foxes ran riot at the Etihad, beating the home side 5-2 thanks to a Jamie Vardy hat-trick in a result that left pundits questioning not only City’s credentials, but Guardiola’s position as manager.
It was the only time Guardiola had conceded five goals in 686 games as a manager and the first time in 438 games that Manchester City had conceded five goals at home. This result left City in the bottom half of the table, while Leicester were flying having won their opening three matches of the new season.
So what's changed since then? Well, looking back at the starting XI from that day, it is clear that Manchester City’s defence was not up to scratch. Eric Garcia partnered the new signing Nathan Ake at the heart of the defence, with Benjamin Mendy starting at left-back. Jamie Vardy had a field day.
John Stones and Joao Cancelo, two key members of the back four now, weren’t even in the squad but perhaps this horror show at the back was the turning point for Manchester City’s entire season. Just two days later they went out and spent £65m on Ruben Dias, who has without doubt been the signing of the season. The Portuguese defender has replaced Vincent Kompany, transformed a previously tepid backline and his partnership with the reinvigorated Stones has provided the platform for City to chase the quadruple.
The deal with Manchester City must have been close before the Leicester game, but if those five goals and three penalties conceded helped to push this deal over the line, it has proved to be City’s most pivotal result of the season.
Further forward that day, Rodri was paired with Fernandinho in a defensive double pivot which provided no spark for this City side. Perhaps Guardiola was concerned about his new-look back-line, but the duo were stretched from pillar to post by a vibrant Leicester side. The front four, Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden are by and large, the preferred four now as they have coped without Sergio Aguero for the majority of the season.
City looked utterly despondent that day. The lack of energy and ideas was so far removed from what we had seen over the past three seasons from a Guardiola team that it wasn’t out of the ordinary to question his future. He had been managing City for longer than any other club and as we saw after a four year-spell at Barcelona and a three-year stint at Bayern Munich, the Spaniard needs time to recharge his batteries. It looked like he had run out of steam, at the start of the toughest Premier League schedule we have ever seen.
How he has proved those doubters wrong. On course for the Premier League title, with a League Cup final and an FA Cup semi-final to come, the domestic treble is well within reach. Then we come to the big one. The elusive Champions League. If Pep Guardiola can win that one as well, it will mark the greatest season of any English side in history.
City found their spark in the New Year when they beat Chelsea away at Stamford Bridge, they found their bottle away at Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup, but the lessons learnt from the 5-2 defeat to Leicester, for Guardiola and his squad, may just have won them the title.