The international break may have come at the perfect time for Manchester City after several of their key players hit form while representing their respective countries.
Like many of the other Premier League’s big-hitters, City struggled to gain any real momentum before this most recent break in the domestic calendar, winning just three of their seven opening games in the top-flight.
Following their heavy 5-2 defeat to Leicester in September, City have looked sluggish and have since lost ground to the Foxes, Tottenham and Liverpool at the top of the table.
Ferran Torres bagged a hat-trick in Spain’s 6-0 demolition job on Germany on Tuesday night
Having rescued a point against champions Liverpool before the international break, Guardiola was given time to go away and think how to get his side clicking again after several lacklustre performances over the past two months.
But while he was doing that, his players that were called up for international duty may have provided him with some much-needed answers.
Ferran Torres smashed a hat-trick past Germany while Rodri also got on the scoresheet in Spain’s 6-0 demolition job of Joachim Low’s side on Tuesday.
Ruben Dias also grabbed his first two goals for Portugal, with his second coming in the dying seconds to seal victory against Croatia in their Nations League clash.
Torres will be hoping to help ease the goal burden back at City, who have struggled up front
Guardiola’s men have managed to score just four goals in 360 Premier League minutes
While Raheem Sterling is yet to feature after missing both of England’s games against the Republic of Ireland and Belgium with a slight knock, the international break appears to have worked out well for Guardiola and his plans heading into a hectic festive period.
But what can Guardiola take from this and will his Nations League hotshots be able to continue their form and propel City back up the table to familiar territory?
Here, Sportsmail takes a look at City’s season so far, what can change and what is ahead for the four-time Premier League champions.
What’s gone wrong so far?
After missing out on the chance to sign Lionel Messi this summer, it feels like it’s gone a bit flat at City.
While a season-opening win against Wolves at Molineux was a good start, Guardiola and Co quickly came crashing back to earth when Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes side ran riot at the Etihad, putting five past them in an emphatic win for Leicester.
It was a big wake up call for City but the defeat was only the beginning of their problems. The lack of a proper pre-season has led to multiple injuries with players being run ragged in what is already a condensed fixture list as a result of the pandemic.
As a result, City have been without a number of key players with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho all missing plenty of action already – while Guardiola has been left with a selection headache at both ends of the pitch.
City’s heavy 5-2 defeat to Leicester in September left Guardiola’s side with plenty of problems
At one point City were left without a recognised senior striker for a string of games, which saw Guardiola throw youngster Liam Delap into the action in a bid to add some sort of presence up top.
While wins against Arsenal and Sheffield United have helped push City up to 10th, draws against Leeds and West Ham have hindered their progress, while their most recent outing saw them claw back a point against champions Liverpool before the international break.
There has since been question marks over Guardiola’s future in what has been his worst start to a campaign as manager yet. These were eased after he signed a nw two-year deal on Thursday but there is plenty of work to do.
So has the international break helped Pep?
Before the international break, Guardiola managed to weather the storm considering the bad luck he’s had with injuries in recent months, while the club’s good recruitment strategy has helped address a number of depth issues.
The arrival of Torres has helped plug that gap left by Leroy Sane and Guardiola will be looking to capitalise on the 20-year-old’s good form while away with Spain.
In his first 10 appearances for the club, Torres scored four goals while providing two assists from the wing, but his hat-trick in the emphatic win over Germany will give Guardiola more food for thought on who can play through the centre, considering his side have only scored four goals across 360 minutes of Premier League football.
The break came at the right time with several of City stars discovering their scoring touch
While the return of Gabriel Jesus from injury was a blessing, Guardiola can now be flexible with distributing the goal burden among his players ahead of a packed fixture schedule heading into winter.
New signing Dias also scored his first goals for his country, equalising for Portugal after going a goal behind to Croatia before the defender pounced on a defensive lapse to score a last-minute winner on Tuesday.
It will be another boost seeing Dias return fully fit considering how well the ex-Benfica man has settled in and become a key player in Guardiola’s plans.
Ruben Dias scored a game-winning brace for Portugal in their 3-2 win over Croatia on Tuesday
Dias’ arrival has also seen Guardiola ease up on his reliance of Fernandinho, who more often than not played at centre back last season.
His injury has forced Guardiola to address his depth issues while Rodri is finally starting to find his feet after a year at the club.
De Bruyne is still firing on all fronts for club and country, helping guide Belgium to the Nations League finals on Sunday with a win over England, and will be the catalyst for City going forward if he can stay fit and healthy.
How else has the international break benefitted City?
It appears City have come out of the international break relatively unscathed while the same cannot be said for title-rivals Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp saw Virgil Van Dijk ruled out for the season last month following a late challenge by Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby, before serious injuries to Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Joe Gomez have decimated his back line.
Mohamed Salah record two positive coronavirus tests while away with Egypt which leaves Klopp with even more issues to contend with, while other clubs have also suffered.
City’s opponents this weekend, Spurs, were also handed a blow after Matt Doherty tested positive for the virus which rules him out of this weekend’s action.
City’s title rivals Liverpool were dealt more bad news following Joe Gomez’s serious injury
City are just five points behind Spurs and a good result in north London will put them within three points of leaders Leicester while having a game in hand.
Guardiola has also been boosted by the news that Aguero, Fernandinho and Sterling are set to return from injury just in time for the hectic festive period.
Aguero has played just 178 minutes of football in the past four months but has been working his way back to full fitness. It remains unclear if he will feature against Tottenham at the weekend.
Sterling was forced to miss both of England’s games against the Republic of Ireland and Belgium last week with a muscle twinge but is set to return to City’s squad ready for action.
What’s ahead and what have City got to look forward to?
City can really get themselves back in the title race with a win against high-flyers Tottenham on Saturday evening.
Currently sitting 10th and have a game in hand, Guardiola’s men can take advantage of Liverpool’s misfortunes and really get a hold of title race this early on should they be able to string a run of wins together.
A win over Spurs will be a good indicator that the tide is turning for City before they finish the month off with a home game against Burnley that is sandwiched between two away trips in the Champions League.
Home ties against Marseille and Fulham set them up before they make the short trip across town to face rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford.
City’s next run of games are crucial to what will be an intense Christmas period, and with the likes of Torres and Dias in fine form, Guardiola will be reliant on a consistent run of results to get them back into the title picture.
The Catalan boss now has the task of transforming this squad into a dominant force again