Pep Guardiola could relish the hunter's role: Richard Buxton
Man City manager enters the final year of his contract with everything to prove
Pep Guardiola has seldom found himself on the back foot in a star-studded career, but having to be the hunter might actually suit the Manchester City manager this season.
A 3-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers yesterday morning (Singapore time) - which was achieved without seven players - saw the former English Premier League champions attempt to fire an early statement of intent.
The Citizens laying down a solid marker is closely aligned to the Catalan's personal fate.
Guardiola enters the final year of his contract with everything to prove. Never has he seen out his final 12 months at any club from a position of genuine adversity.
With Bayern Munich and Barcelona, he was able to lean on coaching sides that were reigning champions of their respective homelands. The latter also had the bonus of capturing their second Champions League title in three seasons.
This time around, Guardiola does not have the luxury of resting on those past laurels.
Liverpool's solid start to their EPL defence, coupled with significant squad upgrades like Thiago Alcantara, means that City will need to reprise once more the role of chasers.
It served them well two seasons ago, when an impressive 14-match winning run saw them edge out the Anfield club by one point in a title race that went right to the wire.
Last term, however, the toll of a 198-point haul across two seasons finally showed.
Before yesterday morning's opening win to the new campaign, City had bitter memories of the Molineux. A comfortable 2-0 lead was killed off there last December, along with the increasingly faint hopes of catching Juergen Klopp's side at the summit, as Wolves won 3-2.
Already playing catch-up to their rivals means that Guardiola must bring City up to speed in a shorter turnaround.
Unlike at the Allianz Arena and Nou Camp, he is trying a different type of alchemy rather than persevering with tried-and-tested formulae.
Losing Vincent Kompany and David Silva in barely 18 months has led to gambling on unfamiliar combinations.
Nathan Ake's impact is quickly becoming felt beyond central defence.
The arrival of the Holland international restored Fernandinho to his familiar midfield berth and allowed both the veteran and Kevin de Bruyne to regularly carve up the Wolves backline with ease.
Silva's departure, similarly, freed up an opening on centre stage for Phil Foden to shine. The 20-year-old midfielder extended his impressive return of six goals since the EPL emerged from a three-month Covid-19 lockdown in June.
But how Guardiola addresses the hosts' second-half onslaught will determine whether City have the stomach to snatch Anfield's long-awaited crown away at a first attempt.
It also carries far-reaching consequences for his long-term future at the Etihad Stadium.
The 49-year-old has already broken personal records for City by staying beyond four seasons - longer than his spell as Barca boss from 2008 to 2012.
Tying down their most successful manager of all-time is not as straightforward as it may have appeared little more than a year ago. What happens next will be determined solely by Guardiola's sense of self-worth.
He sees another extension as a reward which needs to be earned instead of expected.
Disproving the doubters after an unheralded season drove Guardiola to redefine standards in 2017/18, guiding his current employers to the EPL crown with a 100-point record.
If he is again in battle mode, City should relish their unfancied title-contender status.