The reigning champions fell 14 points behind leaders Liverpool at the top of the Premier League after a 2-1 derby defeat by Man Utd.
Pep Guardiola knew before Saturday’s derby that Manchester United have been better against bigger sides this season.
He also knew how their neighbours would play at the Etihad Stadium: a solid, organised defence with pace on the counterattack.
Yet the Manchester City boss steadfastly refused to change his playing style and for the opening 30 minutes it went horribly wrong.
The speed and precision of United’s attacking trio of Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Anthony Martial broke past City time and time again.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believed his side could have been more than two goals ahead and the Norwegian was right, with James and Rashford both wasting glorious opportunities.
The ultimate 2-1 loss leaves City 14 points behind leaders Liverpool at the top of the table and seemingly out of the title race.
Guardiola has never been in that situation this early in the season as a manager.
But he has been in the position of fielding questions about his tactics, why City’s defence was left exposed to United’s counterattacking threat and why he doesn’t sacrifice some of his high-risk philosophy and tighten up at the back.
In Guardiola’s first season, he faced a constant criticism that his attacking strategy would not work in England and that he needed to change. His response was to stick to his plan and it worked with two record-breaking title-winning seasons.
The City boss is again facing questions about his side’s openness after nine games without a clean sheet, and the critics will get the same response.
“I like my team, how they played,” Guardiola said after the 2-1 derby defeat. “We conceded a little bit more than usual but the last years against United we have conceded a bit.
“We knew the pace they have with James, Martial and Rashford. Sometimes it is not possible to control it because when you lose the ball it is difficult.
“In general we did what we liked. We arrived in the final third many times. Unfortunately we cannot finish a little bit more but I like to watch my team like this.”
Guardiola’s response to Saturday’s defeat will be to do more of the same but to do it better. There will be minor tactical tweaks, as there have been throughout the past three-and-a-half seasons, but his belief in how to get out of their current rut is for his side to play their way back into form.
His squad have been nowhere near their incredible heights of the past two seasons and Guardiola believes that a drop-off may be the result of the intensity of winning back-to-back titles.
Injuries have also been critical, with Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane missing for the majority of the season so far, while Benjamin Mendy is still striving for his best after two injury-wrecked seasons.
But individuals have also lost some of their spark. Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Riyad Mahrez have not consistently been at their creative best while John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Rodri have not able to stop the opposition at the back.
Despite his players’ struggles, Guardiola isn’t about to tweak his tactics anytime soon and declared the title race almost irrelevant to how his team will tackle games.
“If we were only five points behind, 10 points, 14, 20 – we would have to continue,” he explained.
“I said many times in the last weeks we have to continue. If we are not able to we are going to try next season.”
Guardiola only wants to play one way and he’s not about to change now.