It was difficult to watch last weekend as Man City fell short of their own high standards, failing to get any points from a home game for the first time in over nine months.
Only Liverpool in the Premier League have managed better, and as a result City find themselves eight points behind their rivals after only eight games.
City were both defensively vulnerable while being inept in possession, struggling to find fluidity in their usually stellar passing play, and to break down a compact Wolverhampton Wanderers back-line.
Ultimately the leading reason for the poor performance was injuries to players in positions all across the pitch.
Selecting players of debatable quality led to a tactical shift, with Guardiola choosing to start Cancelo and Gundogan, to help protect his weakened defence.
Not only did this fail, but it led to a deficiency in City’s build-up play with the attacking line seeing very little of the ball. There were too many misplaced crosses into the box, and all it took was one or two individual mistakes (from the likes of the normally fourth choice centre-back Nicolas Otamendi) to allow Wolves to take advantage and pick City off on the counter-attack.
Even before Wolves scored late in the game there were plenty of warning signs in both the first half and from previous games that Man City were there for the taking.
🗣️ Txiki Begiristain:
“It was the way Khaldoon talked to him that night [1-1 draw vs Everton, 2017], he showed how much confidence he had in us.
— Man City Xtra (@City_Xtra) October 8, 2019
If Guardiola’s team are going to overcome this in the coming weeks, the obvious area to address is the defence.
Otamendi is having a torrid time, but Pep’s alternatives are limited.
He can rely on younger players and choose to drop the centre-back for either Eric Garcia or Taylor Harwood-Bellis, who both had good games recently against Preston North-End.
However, Man City’s next game is against Crystal Palace away and it’s unusual for Guardiola to give youth a chance in tough games away from home.
Fortunately, John Stones should be back from injury soon after the international break and, similarly to Fabian Delph last season, we should expect to see Otamendi placed on the naughty-step from that point onward.
It’s understandable that City’s management team thought they’d be able to get through this season with Laporte, Stones, Otamendi, and newly positioned Fernandinho in the centre of defence.
After injuries and this shaky start though, they must now be thinking how secure they’d have been if they’d replaced the departing Vincent Kompany in the summer.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone if they correct their mistake in this coming January transfer window in what could be another big money move.
A lot of City fans may feel like this is yet another rejection of youth promotion, but ultimately fans should recognise that they won’t have Pep Guardiola’s brilliance forever, and the best chance of maintaining a winning legacy for the future is to provide him with all means available to do so – now.
One young player City can be confident in playing however is Phil Foden.
While Gundogan starting alongside Rodri on Sunday did help somewhat against Wolves’ attack, it meant an essential role was missing in linking up the midfield with the forwards.
The game needed a player with the extra motivation to close down the opposition, to run with the ball, and to take chances. Bernardo Silva can do this too but with the lack of games Foden’s been getting it’s hard to think of anyone with more desire to do this than the lad from Stockport.
If City are able to pick themselves up from this bad result like they did after losing to Newcastle United away last season, fans will look back and think too much has been made of last weekends’ bad day at the office.
In the long run, there’s still 90 points to play for, and while Liverpool have been picked up all points available, they haven’t been putting in the stellar performances they’ve come to be recognised for under Jurgen Klopp.
Overreactions are bound to happen because Pep’s team have set such a high standard for themselves to live up to.
City had a worse showing in the Premier League last season comparatively to the season before that, but only ended up with two less points and still won the league.
There’s time to turn this around, but the fact is that until injured players have had time to heal and are healthy enough to return to the first team, some problems are going to persist.
In the meantime, managing out individual mistakes, and sorting out the defence to attack ratio will need to be addressed soon, or talk will eventually turn to the need for Blues to change their priorities and focus on the only major trophy which has yet eluded them…
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