Pep Guardiola appeared to concede that winning the Premier League title was beyond his Manchester City side after perhaps the most chastening defeat of his managerial career on Sunday.
After a 4-0 defeat at Everton, the biggest he has suffered in a league match as manager at Barcelona, Bayern Munich or City, the Spaniard was left to reflect on the 10-point gap which now separates his fifth-placed side from leaders Chelsea.
Asked if that meant City’s title challenge was over, he told reporters: “By the first one (Chelsea)? Yes. Ten points is a lot. The second one (Tottenham Hotspur) is three points (ahead). We have to see.”
The implication was, as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger also said recently, that the title was now Chelsea’s to lose.
City have lost their way to such an extent, after losing four of their last eight league games, that the current worry for their fans is whether they will even be in the first four amongst the Champions League spots by the end of the season.
Next Saturday comes a critical examination as they host soaring Spurs, who are on a run of seven straight wins in all competitions and scoring goals for fun.
City’s capitulation at Goodison Park, where a first-half goal from Romelu Lukaku was followed by another straight after the break by Kevin Mirallas and two late clinchers from teenagers Tom Davies and Ademola Lookman, was alarming.
After the break, as City stuck to Guardiola’s ‘pass, pass’ mantra yet failed to make inroads into a side that defended stoutly and countered more incisively than his meanderers, it was noticeable how many heads seemed to drop.
Yet if Guardiola was left even more rattled, both on a footballing and personal level, about the obvious culture shock he has experienced in English football, this time the Spaniard was at pains not to show it.
“I’m so happy in Manchester. Of course, I prefer to win than to lose but I’m so happy. The way I will try to do it until my last day is the best way possible to achieve what I think is the best way to play,” he said.
So City fans can expect no change to Guardiola’s philosophy that possession is nine-tenths of the footballing law. City’s problem, he felt, was what they did when they had the ball.
“When you see the games against West Ham (a 5-0 FA Cup third round win) and even today, we had the control of the game. And when you have control of the game, you need to create more,” he said.
“I spoke to my players over the last month, forget about the table. Focus on the next game and try to do our best to win the games and after that at the end of the season we are going to evaluate how our level and performance was.
“How was the coach? How were the players? And after, we are going to decide.” (Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Ken Ferris)