What went wrong?
The coach is the same. The style of play is the same. Players are mostly the same. Rivals haven’t changed either. So what went wrong this year? What makes the difference between a good season and a bad one? I am talking of course about the (still) champions of the Premier League, Manchester City.
It could be hard to believe that a team that won the league in the previous two seasons with a total of 100 points and 98 respectively, is now 22 behind the leaders. Is Pep Guardiola missing something here? Are his possession-based tactics too rusty now or did the opponents learn how to play against them? I would say none of the above.
Injuries and improvisations
If we look at the Premier League standings from the previous season, we see that after 25 gameweeks City had scored 66 times. That is just one goal over the 65 scored this season. So scoring goals is not the problem here.
However, in the entire 2018/2019 campaign Guardiola’s side conceded only 23 goals, while now they have taken the ball out of their net 29 times. And there are still 13 matches left to be played.
The main reason behind this is the absence of Aymeric Laporte, their most valuable centre-back. He has been a rock in City’s defence for the last one and a half years, but the injury sustained in the last summer shattered Pep’s defence.
The Spaniard made two expensive signings this season, Cancelo, a right-back, and Rodri, a defensive midfielder. But while Cancelo couldn’t make his way into the first team, Rodri failed to bring safety in front of the back four.
Fernandinho was pulled back as a central defender, but he often seemed to struggle there. It must be hard to adapt to a new position of play, especially when you partner up with Nico Otamendi, who has been in a terrible run of form this year.
There was also a problem of inconsistency for the left-back position. Benjamin Mendy can’t shake off those knee injuries and simply can not be reliable for Guardiola. Angelino failed the tests he’s been put through and was sent to RB Leipzig. Zinchenko is promising, but he’s not at the level shown by Mendy two years ago.
A super-solid rival
Liverpool has been outstanding this season. If it weren’t for them, Manchester City would still be at the top of the competition right now, winning it without any doubts. The Cormorants have been really successful against City recently, and I think that has gotten to Guardiola’s players.
They always look like they plan the match in the smallest of details, but eventually get beaten by a side that made winning seem so natural now. Liverpool wins are almost instinctive, whereas City has to fight weekly to materialize their attacking style.
In Pep we trust?
Manchester City has been constantly underachieving throughout this Premier League season. Probably the most eloquent example is the match against Tottenham, at the beginning of February. A game that should’ve been won easily by the visitors turned out to be lost by a two-goal margin. It’s difficult not to get frustrated when you miss all of the eighteen chances created and your opponent scores two out of three.
Looking at the games where the champions have lost points, we see that in the first three of the season City conceded eight goals from a total of eight shots on target. Aguero & co. delivered 20 shots on target, but only scored four times!
Let alone the penalties missed by Gundogan, Sterling, Aguero or Gabriel Jesus, I sense that Pep’s players have lost a bit of trust. Trust in themselves, and trust in the manager. They expected Pep’s tactics to lead them to victories, but when this doesn’t happen the players are questioning their roles and their abilities.
If the Cityzens are dominating their opponents, creating more chances and attempting more shots than them, how come they fail to be the team of the last years, when they used to trash other teams?
I think that besides the unfortunate circumstances of the current season, players are beginning to lack the confidence required to succeed for a third year in a row. Winning the FA Cup, EFL Cup and finishing second in the Premier League won’t be enough for Manchester City’s season to be successful.
After all, if they don’t win the Champions League, is Guardiola the right person to manage Manchester City for another year? Or should this season mark the end of his stay at the Etihad?
Nicu Vădan Quality Assurance