Manchester City suffered another chastening defeat this weekend. They were deservedly beaten 2-1 by their arch-rivals Manchester United at the Etihad in the Manchester derby. The result meant that City lost their fourth game this season and fell 14 points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool. Pep Guardiola’s side might now be out of the title race.
The result also indicated how poor City have been this season in the league. They have now dropped as many points this season as they did in the whole of the last campaign. They would have to win their remaining 22 games to match their tally of 98 points they accrued last season.
In the Manchester derby on Saturday, City’s defence was torn to shreds in the first half by a speedy and clinical Red Devils attack. The blistering pace of Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Anthony Martial caused plenty of problems for City’s poor defence.
City, on the other hand, lacked intensity and adventure in their play.
Things look bleak for City and their title defence looks nearly impossible. Despite an almost flawless two seasons from them, they now look tired, they lack intensity and their defence has never looked so vulnerable. But what has really gone wrong for City?
Two seasons ago, they brushed teams aside, scored a record number of goals and became the first team to reach 100 points. Their remarkable consistency created a fear factor in them and they will definitely go down as one of the best teams in the Premier League era. However, the team we watched on Saturday was not that of two seasons ago. They lacked the incisiveness and slickness we’ve come to expect from a Guardiola team.
The 32 points that City have accrued so far is the lowest points total of Guardiola's managerial career after 16 games. These are worrying times for him and the club.
One obvious flaw for Manchester City is their defence. Despite their extravagant spending in that area of the pitch it still leaves a lot to be desired. Injury to Aymeric Laporte has exposed their unnecessary decision not to replace departing captain Vincent Kompany. Fernandinho has had to play at the back of a makeshift defence.
They don’t have a regular left-back. Angelino was poor against Liverpool and United, whilst Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko are yet to live up to the hype. John Stones’ inconsistent displays and an injury-ridden career at City makes the reigning champions weaker.
Aside from performance on the pitch, one thing that has haunted Guardiola throughout his career is longevity at one club. The Spaniard’s only season without the league title was at Barcelona, it was his fourth and last. His third and final season at Bayern Munich was less impressive than his first two. Now, he is in his fourth season at City and ominous signs are beginning to show.
The greatest challenge Guardiola faces this season is to maintain the level of success in terms of results and performance of the course of this long season. Sir Alex Ferguson stayed at Manchester United for 26 odd years, and most of that time, the Red Devils were one of the best in the world.
He did this by reinventing himself tactically and changing his squad after four of five years. City’s squad, although still expensively assembled, suddenly looks in desperate need of renewal and rejuvenation.
Many managers who have implemented a high-octane style of football have found out that after a few seasons, things become stale and players become weary. We saw that with Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham and Marcelo Bielsa at Athletic Bilbao.
Guardiola will have to freshen up his squad if necessary if they want to keep playing like they did the last two seasons. City still possesses one of the best squads in the world on paper. The core of their team; Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and David Silva are in their 30s and will need backups or replacements. With Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne entering the peaks of their careers, Guadiorla has some solid building blocks if he wants a mini-rebuild.
Can Pep engineer a recovery?