City’s Vulnerabilities Exposed Again in Archetypal Defeat
We’ve been here before. We’ve been here a few times. In fact, we’ve been here quite so often that we no longer knock before we get in, if it’s locked, we know where the key is hidden, and we know what’s usually in the fridge. It’s Manchester City suffering a defeat. Or rather, City suffering a defeat so archetypal and stereotypical that it’s almost become a cliché. City lost due to defensive vulnerabilities and the system breaking down? Yeah, well, what else is new.
This time it was Leicester City at home, but perhaps we should hark back to when Pep Guardiola’s side lost to Leicester in December 2016. That was City at their most exposed, the defenders were isolated, the goalkeeper was left vulnerable, and the opposition kept drilling into that gaping flaw until they couldn’t anymore. Two seasons after, it seemed like that was the past, yet City have managed to circle round and back to the horribly exposed side that they were in Guardiola’s first season.
For the first time as manager, Guardiola has watched his team concede five times, and before this, they hadn’t even conceded four at home since Real Madrid went to the Allianz Arena in 2014 and, surprise surprise, isolated the defenders and ruthlessly tore past a vulnerable goalkeeper. So, it’s quite telling that, six years on, Pep Guardiola’s teams still have that same flaw.
“For me, they were lucky,” City midfielder Rodri told the BBC. ’Football has not been fair to us. Maybe it is our fault, maybe it is their strength – but it is very difficult to explain. “We did a lot of good things to win the game. A team like Leicester comes here and plays with 11 guys behind the ball… games like this – where the opposition do nothing – you are a bit confused. It’s not the way I like to play.”
This line has been trotted a few times by City, not least their manager. Guardiola hasn’t been shy of lauding his team with praise after a defeat, citing how well they did, and basically implying that it’s one of those things – even though he did question his side’s desire after this defeat. But it’s not a one-off when it happens the same way every time; instead it feels very much like a blueprint.
You could say City are like a knight well-stocked in virtually every spot, but with their jaw horribly exposed, and easy to target. Even in the victory at Wolves in their first game of this season – in a game in which they looked imperious in the first half – City looked increasingly vulnerable, it was easy to get the ball in behind them, and when Wolves scored one, it looked like another was coming.
Of course, there are caveats to this defeat. Three of the five goals conceded were penalties, and the side had key personnel missing. But City’s problems isn’t just personnel, but organisation. The defence may be less trustworthy – John Stones hasn’t convinced in four years, and Nicolas Otamendi is rather past his best, and basically out the door already – but it doesn’t help that the defence is always isolated, thanks to not-so-certain midfield. Fernandinho is on the wane at 35, and has spent much of the past year at centre-back, while Rodri is not as combative and is easily targeted.
But this is just a part of City’s problems; it might be the biggest, but it’s by no means all of it. Zlatan Ibrahimovic once described Pep’s Barcelona, during his time at the club, as schoolboys, and there might be a point in that. Guardiola has a history of favouring players with adherence to tactical structures over those with great personalities. While that helps his system, when the system fails to get going, it really does fail. City hardly have underwhelming games in which a player rises to the occasion – some Kevin de Bruyne instances aside – and when the structure collapses, the tools fail as well. No one really grabs the game by the scruff of the neck, and opponents sense incredible vulnerability. The game is then littered with pedestrian play, excessive crosses, and/or – like this case – hopeful shots from outside the box.
Guardiola has stated his desire to stay at City beyond the expiration of his contract in May – this is already the longest he’s been at any club – and City’s plan to bring in new recruits – defender Ruben Dias has already joined from Benfica – is expected to help alleviate shortcomings, there are still key players to return from the sidelines, and for much of the Wolves game, they looked hungry and roaring to go again. The season is still just two games old and you could excuse a lack of pre-season to curb these drawbacks, and wouldn’t be surprises if they curtail those flaws as the campaign progresses.
But as Pep said when talking about a potential new contract, he’d have to earn it, and after last season’s displays of vulnerability, and similar early on this term, it looks City have to earn the right to be seen as top dogs again, especially with champions Liverpool having made an upgrade in their most lacking area.
City are still formidable. They ended last season with the most goals, and conceded just two less than the champions last season. It’s the sense of invincibility and resolve that’s questionable.
Kunle Ajao126 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not