- Associated Press - Friday, April 28, 2017

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Scrambling for fourth place and without a trophy is hardly what Pep Guardiola could have envisioned in his first season in charge at Manchester City.

Whether City ends up in third, fourth or outside the Champions League places, the Spanish coach will have to reflect on having been unable to meet the club’s lofty expectations.

“It’s still in our hands, that’s important,” Guardiola said of securing Champions League soccer for next season. “Every game will be a battle.”

City let go of Guardiola predecessor Manuel Pellegrini, who won the League Cup and qualified for the Champions League, two years after winning the league title in 2014.

Guardiola, whose success at Barcelona and Bayern Munich made him the most coveted coach in the world, won’t likely be fired, but this season will be the first time in his coaching career he has not won a trophy.

City was expected to fight for the Premier League title but after an impressive start - the team won 10 straight games in all competitions to start Guardiola’s reign - things have tailed off.

The 0-0 draw with Manchester United on Thursday encapsulated the second half of its season.

City dominated possession and created chances, but with no end product. Just like in games against Tottenham in January and Arsenal this month, City failed to kill off its opponents.

Striker Sergio Aguero was the most wasteful. The Argentine had nine shots in the game, more than any other player in a single match against United this season.

“I will insist that in this sport we have another chance to try and eventually it will unlock and we will start scoring a lot of goals,” Guardiola said.

When City finally did get the ball in the net - in stoppage time when substitute Gabriel Jesus headed in Aguero’s cross - the goal was rightly ruled out with the Brazilian striker marginally offside.

The assistant referee’s flag halted City’s celebrations but the youngster’s immediate affect illustrated what might have been had Jesus not missed 13 games in all competitions after fracturing a metatarsal bone in his foot in mid-February.

The 20-year-old Brazilian’s impact before injury was so astonishing that Aguero’s future at the club was thrown into doubt

“We are so happy to have him back because he has a special talent,” Guardiola said. “When he arrived, his impact was amazing in the team. Tottenham (on Jan. 21) was his first game and in eight minutes he had two chances.

“It was a pity the movement was in front of the central defender (for his goal), but I always think what would have happened if Gabriel Jesus had been with us all the season.”

Guardiola could at least take heart from the performance of central defender Vincent Kompany. The Belgian has suffered three injury-hit seasons and has played only 10 games this term but has featured in all four games for City this month.

City has been linked with Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk but Kompany’s return to fitness could convince Guardiola that he does not need to buy a replacement.

“Vincent wins the duels, that’s why he’s a good central defender,” Guardiola said. “It’s not easy to play against (United’s Marcus) Rashford and, in the first minutes, (Henrik) Mkhitaryan. He is so, so fast player but they are so, so intelligent doing these actions.”

City, which is in fourth place in the Premier League, one point behind Liverpool and one ahead of United, now only plays teams no higher than eighth in its remaining five games.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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