Manchester City’s night of mood swings ended with a remarkable outpouring from manager Pep Guardiola as he virtually presented a list of demands to the entire club for a return to previous sky-high standards.
It was not delivered in any sinister way but, having watched the reigning champions turn a 2-0 half-time deficit into a chaotic 4-2 win, an animated and passionate Guardiola felt it was time to strike publicly as he reminded everyone at Manchester City that what he has been seeing has not been good enough.
City closed the gap on leaders Arsenal to five points but Guardiola has seen enough in recent weeks to launch a remarkable stream of consciousness in the direction of anyone who would listen.
There was the unaccustomed sound of booing at half-time as City’s fans, gorged on success under Guardiola, expressed their disapproval at a limp first 45 minutes and what they clearly regarded as lenient display from referee Simon Hooper.
Guardiola may have ended a thunderous night pumping his arms into the air and blowing kisses into the stands but he was clearly less than satisfied as he warned Manchester City will not be winning their fifth title in six years unless they raise themselves to their previous heights.
The manager’s fire and brimstone reaction continued into his post-match debriefing as Guardiola’s perfectionist approach bubbled to the surface, outlining what he expects from everyone at Manchester City on and off the pitch.
No-one was spared as Guardiola clearly felt victory – “I am incredibly happy. I will sleep like a baby tonight” – allowed him a better platform to state that he was not actually incredibly happy at all.
Guardiola wants more than the natural gifts of his players, particularly as they try to overcome the hunger of a new challenger in the shape of Arsenal.
“Guts, passion, fire to win from minute one,” said Guardiola. “The same with the fans. They are silent for 45 minutes. I want my fans back.
“I want a reaction from the whole organisation. Not just the players.”
He added: “I want our fans to push us. Demand more. Say ‘come on guys’. Show us more. We are a happy flowers team, all nice and good. I don’t want to be a happy flower. I want to beat Arsenal. If we play that way Arsenal will destroy us.”
And on Guardiola went. It may have seemed like an impromptu outburst, indeed it sounded like one, but he has clearly detected a hungry fighter approach from Arsenal that he now wants replicated in every part of Manchester City.
He said: “We have an opponent in Arsenal who have the fire, almost two decades without winning the Premier League. I am explaining reality. Everything is so comfortable at City but opponents don’t wait.”
No-one within earshot was left in any doubt about what Guardiola wants from now on, his words coming on the back of a lame League Cup quarter-final loss at Southampton and the derby defeat at Manchester United.
City were looking at the rarity of a third successive loss until something happened in the dressing room at half-time, something which might have been pretty special to listen to given the fact Guardiola still seemed to be boiling well after the final whistle.
All was well that ended well for City as they flashed through the gears with three goals in 12 minutes at the start of the second half, inspired by the magnificent Riyad Mahrez, who eventually scored two and was involved in the others from Julian Alvarez and Erling Haaland.
There is no doubt City have not been their usual fluent, threatening selves in recent weeks but such was the reaction of the players on the pitch and Guardiola’s message off it that they will hope this is the night that shakes off any cobwebs that have been hanging over them since even before the World Cup, when they lost at home to Brentford.
Arsenal are still in control of the title race, five points ahead with a game in hand, but no-one listening to Guardiola was left in any doubt that he wants the old champion City back consistently and he wants it now.
This was spectacular, eventually, on the field – and Guardiola made it spectacular off it.