LONDON: For Pep Guardiola, the head-scratching just got a little more intense.
In the aftermath of Manchester City's 4-0 loss at Everton on Sunday, when its defensive frailties were once again exposed, the Spaniard wrote off his side's Premier League title chances.
While that is unlikely to rattle owner Sheik Mansour and director of football Txiki Begiristain — the men who finally lured their long-term target in a major coup for the club — Guardiola's first season in English soccer is not turning out all that well.
Sure, City is still in the Champions League and has a winnable showdown against Monaco in the last 16 next month. But in the league, the club has been up and down and the loss at Goodison Park was Guardiola's biggest ever defeat in league competition as a manager.
If that wasn't enough, Guardiola has lost five league games already this season, the most he has lost as a coach in a single campaign. Not what he might have expected after his success with Barcelona and Bayern Munich that made him the most in-demand coach in the world.
Everything appeared rosy when City topped the league after going 11 games unbeaten. But a 2-0 loss to Tottenham at White Hart Lane in early October began to expose City's defensive issues.
After a 3-1 home loss to Chelsea in early December, Guardiola said City was not strong enough "in both boxes."
"This is a problem we have had all season. It is difficult for us to score goals," Guardiola said at the time. "We concede them very easily and this is the same story."
It is a recurring theme that repeated itself on Sunday at Everton, leaving City in fifth place and 10 points behind Chelsea.
Of the last 22 shots on target that Bravo has faced in the Premier League, 14 have resulted in goals.
Bravo was Guardiola's man after exiling England goalkeeper Joe Hart to Italian club Torino, but City can ill afford to continue to concede as easily as it does.
City has defensive shortcomings, both individually and collectively.
The spotlight has fallen, in particular, on center back John Stones, the world's second most expensive defender who has been under intense scrutiny since his move from Everton last August.
Stones has yet to make the expected impact and while he has made mistakes, so have the defenders around him.
City has had seven players sent off this season and was involved in an unsightly brawl with Chelsea following Sergio Aguero's red card for a bad tackle on David Luiz.
An insight into Guardiola's state of mind came after he was asked if his side had discipline issues following Fernandinho's red card against Burnley on Jan. 2. In an awkward post-match interview with a BBC reporter, Guardiola said: "You're the journalist, not me. Ask the referee, not me."
City has made more changes at the back than any other club, an indication perhaps of why it finds it hard to keep the goals out.
Tactically, Guardiola appears to be undecided whether to go with a three or four-man defense. But without a settled backline, City's problems will likely continue.