There is a good reason why professional boxers and wrestlers talk tough before matches. It is to strike fear into the opponent and win the psychological battle even before stepping into the ring to face the opponent. Pep Guardiola decided to do the opposite as Manchester City prepared to face Liverpool over the weekend.
Some may call it reverse psychology. But it failed spectacularly.
Liverpool were given an unexpected boost when the City boss chose to lament how down and out his side was. He made it clear City had an uphill battle on their hands as they faced an extremely tough opponent. They were in trouble.
The Reds took full advantage racing to a 3-0 lead at half time in Wembley. A competitive FA Cup fixture quickly turned into a one-sided affair. And by the time the Sky Blues woke up in the second half and tried to rally back with goals from Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva, it was too late. The damage had already been done.
After dethroning Manchester City as League Cup champions, winning the trophy earlier in the season, Liverpool are now in the FA Cup final looking to add another trophy to their bulging cabinet.
The Reds are sky-high in confidence heading into the final stretch of the campaign. That can only be bad news for the Citizens.
With just a point separating the two teams at the top of the table, it will take just one slip-up for the title to be won or lost. City are currently not looking good and although it’s understandable given the grueling nature of the fixture against Atletico Madrid and the few injuries suffered, the attitude should be one of giving it all until the end, rather than crying about bruises when victory is nearly achieved.
It’s an established fact that mental toughness plays a key role in winning as far as sports is concerned. Mental toughness, which refers to an athlete’s or a team's ability to persist in the face of challenges, mistakes, and failure, can be an absolute necessity in tough times.
It is regarded as perhaps the most defining characteristic of an elite athlete or team. It can be the difference between winning and losing at the most critical moments in a competition.
It’s a quality City need at a time like this. But instead of facing the obstacles head-on and looking to win in spite of the difficulties, the manager seems to be looking for excuses why they can’t.
While warning someone of the dangers ahead can put them in a good frame of mind to be well prepared before facing the obstacle, it’s hardly motivation to tell anyone they’re in trouble ahead of a tough battle. If anything, that can be very demoralising.
It’s like losing a fight before even stepping foot in the ring.
Liverpool have not had an easy season by any means. They’ve also had difficult games to play despite facing relatively easier opponents in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Champions League.
In the last two games played against Manchester City in just over a week, the Reds have come out tops. That’s despite having to play both games away from Anfield.
With Guardiola bemoaning his team’s misfortunes, the Reds smell blood. Jurgen Klopp is going for the jugular and will want to do everything possible to take advantage of his rival’s show of weakness.
Several City players have not featured prominently in the team this season. The likes of Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Fernandinho, Jack Grealish, Nathan Ake and even Ilkay Gundogan could do with more game time.
The German midfielder has started just 16 Premier League matches this term. That’s just half of City’s league games so far. Yet, the manager left him on the bench in such a crucial fixture.
With Kevin De Bruyne rested due to injury concerns, Gundogan should have been on the pitch against Liverpool. Most of the City players that started against Liverpool have not overworked themselves this season as Guardiola made it seem with his comments before and after the game.
The defeat came more as a result of mentality than anything else. It’s the same mentality that has kept the Citizens from winning the Champions League.
Jurgen Klopp has made a name for himself in England at a time when the best team in the land by far is Manchester City. Credit must go to Guardiola for building a great team at the Etihad Stadium. But as he has admitted himself, this team will not be given due recognition in history without conquering Europe.
As Liverpool now look at the possibility of the quadruple, the Catalan manager must reset his players’ mindset towards victory not just in the league, but also on the continent. Only that will do this team justice considering how good it has been over the last few years.