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Eye On EPL

Confusion at Manchester clubs hurting league title chances

Manchester City's decision to announce the appointment of Pep Guardiola five months in advance was supposed to - in the club's words - "remove the unnecessary burden of speculation".

Unfortunately, all it seems to have done is exactly the opposite - create more confusion in the ranks and derail the team's title hopes.

Since the Guardiola announcement, Manuel Pellegrini's team have lost two of three games, their only victory a laborious 1-0 win over relegation-threatened Sunderland.

Crucially, the two defeats came in big games against fellow Premier League title contenders Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur - at home, no less.

The appointment of Guardiola is a massive steal and I can understand the owners want to excite fans as well. But the timing of the announcement is totally wrong.

Now the talk surrounding the club is about how Guardiola will revolutionise the club and English football next season. But why care about next season when City are involved in a title race right now? In fact, they are still in contention for not one but four trophies.

Even if Pellegrini is well-liked by the players, it is hard for him to motivate them - they know their actions count for little as he won't be around next season.

Even if Pellegrini is well-liked by the players, it is hard for him to motivate them - they know their actions count for little as he won't be around next season.

The Pellegrini loyalists - both players and backroom staff - will be demoralised or even upset at the way the club have treated him, and all these will creep into their work.

Some players will also fear for their futures at the club. After all, it is well-documented that Guardiola brings with him a certain philosophy and style.

Just imagine what Yaya Toure, whom Guardiola deemed surplus to requirements at Barcelona and subsequently sold to City, must be feeling right now.

This unpredictable season could be their best chance to regain the EPL title, but, with so much uncertainty, I doubt City can sustain their title challenge any longer.

The same situation is unravelling at neighbours Manchester United - although this comes as a result of the club's silence.

Rumours that Jose Mourinho has been lined up to replace Louis van Gaal are undermining the Dutchman, whose men have won only twice in their last six games.

The latest defeat, a 1-2 loss at the hands of Sunderland, only intensified speculation that van Gaal could be sacked before the season ends.

It does not help the team that, after every poor result, the manager's future is called into question.

The club's management should come out and support van Gaal unequivocally - a move which would help him win the dressing room over and strengthen his ability to motivate the players.

Sure, it does not appear as if United have improved much under the Dutchman, whose big-money purchases in the transfer market have not translated to silverware on the pitch.

But all these rumours about his position will only hurt the Red Devils, especially now that they are entering the season's final stretch. Even a top-four finish now seems out of reach, which is unacceptable for a club of United's stature.

As much as they hate to admit it, both Manchester clubs are stuck in a similar rut now, albeit one that is - or was, in City's case - completely avoidable.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline 'Confusion at Manchester clubs hurting league title chances'. Print Edition | Subscribe