Manchester City might have awarded manager Pep Guardiola with a new deal on Friday, but there are signs that his side are in danger of becoming stale.
Given a masterclass in counterpunching football by Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho, Guardiola’s City were consigned to a 2-0 defeat in London on Saturday.
Goals from Son Heung-Min and Giovanni Lo Celso acted as blows to the solar plexus of the Etihad side, from which their campaign will struggle to recover.
While victory carried Spurs to the top of the Premier League table at the end of the day for the first time since August 2014, it also consigned City to 10th place.
Already Guardiola is eight points off the pace of his old foe Mourinho, and while City have a game in hand, there are some worrying signs for his team.
The numbers speak for themselves.
Already they have allowed 12 points to be spilled. For regular teams, this is no disaster, yet City are a club that has grown used to pushing above 90 or even 100 points each term.
In the 2016-17 campaign, they became English football’s first centurions. If they were to match that achievement this season, they would have to win 29 of their remaining 30 matches and draw the other.
And even if we consider that was an exceptional side, there is no hiding from the fact that City’s return of 12 points from eight matches marks the lowest tally they have managed at this stage of a season since 2009/10. With 10 goals scored, they have not fared worse since 2006/07.
There is a danger, then, that the club’s owners are caught in a thrall to Guardiola. Sure, he excelled at Barcelona and enjoyed a trophy laden spell with Bayern Munich, but it is hard to feel that he has not lost some of his lustre in recent months.
City were, after all, blown away in incredible style by Liverpool last season. For some, it was a mark of brilliance from Jurgen Klopp’s side. Realism should have bitten when the Etihad club were knocked out of the Champions League by a Lyon side that failed to finish in the European spots in Ligue 1.
After four attempts, he has still not got the Citizens beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
City may have celebrated as Guardiola signed his new deal, but after a difficult 18 months, it is up to him to prove that his ideas can still work when faced with fresh difficulties.
In the past, he chose to spend spells of four years at Barcelona and three years at Bayern, arguing that any longer might result in staleness – the type of which appears to have taken hold at the Etihad.
While Mourinho hits the heights with Spurs, Guardiola’s City languish in midtable. It is a position he has never found himself before.
Less than a quarter of the way into the season, all is not lost, of course, but this promises to be a decisive period in the Catalan’s footballing legacy.
So far, the signs are not promising.