Man City are 11 points behind Premier League pacesetters Chelsea and out of the title race
FOR Pep Guardiola, Sunday’s return to Wembley will be an emotional one.
It was beneath the old Twin Towers 25 years ago he enjoyed his greatest moment as a player — helping Barcelona to their first European Cup.
And where in the new stadium in 2011 he established himself as one of the game’s greatest coaches.
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Fast forward to 2017 and Guardiola is facing one of his biggest challenges — helping to salvage Manchester City’s season.
The cracks have opened up, with City 11 points behind pacesetters Chelsea and out of the title race.
They also suffered a last-16 KO in the Champions League to Monaco and now only the FA Cup represents a chance of some silverware in his first season at the Etihad.
As he returns for Sunday’s semi-final against Arsenal, in what will be his 50th City match, there are question marks over his head for the first time.
Failure will mean it is the first season of his coaching career that he has not won a trophy.
Yet this was the man who was supposed to re-establish them as champions.
After all, that is what Manuel Pellegrini did in his first season, plus he led them to the Champions League semi-finals.
After a ten-game winning start it looked like all was on course as those in the Etihad boardroom patted themselves on the back for a great managerial coup.
The best-laid plans have, however, unravelled.
Now under Guardiola there are fears of not even qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
City are four points above fifth-placed neighbours Manchester United, who have a game in hand, with the derby to come next Thursday.
Guardiola’s side is undoubtedly the best in the country going forward. But it is at the back that his decisions have backfired.
The dumping of Joe Hart for the erratic Claudio Bravo was just wrong.
There have even been ironic cheers at home when the £17million Chilean occasionally makes a save.
It is all a far cry from 1992 for Guardiola when he was in the Barca side that finally ended the club’s long wait for European Cup glory thanks to Ronald Koeman’s extra-time free-kick winner against Sampdoria.
Guardiola would return to the new national stadium as Barca boss in 2011.
He already had one Champions League success under his belt after beating United in the 2009 final.
In doing so again two years later, with an even better display in a 3-1 triumph over Alex Ferguson’s men, his Barca team was established as one of the greatest club sides.