MONEY WELL SPENT: HAS PEP FINALLY SOLVED CITY'S DEFENSIVE ISSUES?
Updated: Jan 11
After falling to a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Jose Mourinho’s Spurs, Manchester City found themselves 13th in the Premier League table boasting just three wins from eight games.
In a team filled with so much attacking quality it’s hard to believe that was where they were floundering. From watching City games, it would seem as though they were almost trying too hard to score, and were very guilty of over-playing the ball at times and not shooting at the vital moment.
However, since that day in North London, City have not lost in any competition and have only conceded three goals from 12 games.
So, it wasn’t quite a Sheffield United decline, but it was certainly a noticeable run of poor results for a team the calibre of Manchester City.
But the question is, how did they turn their fortunes around so quickly? The simple answer. Defending.
While Manchester City under Pep Guardiola are most-definitely known for their slick attacking football and goal-frenzy games, in the last three seasons City have scored 303 goals in the Premier League, averaging out at 2.6 goals per game.
So clearly from that, the blue side of Manchester have absolutely no issues when it comes to finding the back of the net. The usual problem for City has been the defending side of football and Guardiola has attempted for several seasons to stop that, spending £421m on defenders.
Coming into the new season everyone expected the exact same outcome, where City aimed to outscore their opponents but when the goals stopped flying in, the victories stopped coming.
The Spurs defeat was the final nail in the coffin and thus prompted Guardiola to change a couple of things.
The first change that occurred was the re-introduction of John Stones from arguably out of nowhere. Since arriving in 2016, Stones has certainly struggled to make an impression in the light blue colours of City.
However, his time away from the team clearly did an awful lot of good, following the Spurs game, Stones has played every domestic game except the draw with West Brom and the 4-1 victory over Arsenal.
If you haven’t worked it out by now that means since his re-introduction to the team Stones has only conceded one goal while being on the pitch, and that came in the final moments of the dominating victory at Stamford Bridge.
While Stones has been imperious since his re-emergence, his centre-back partner has adapted to England’s top flight extremely quickly.
Ruben Dias joined the Citizens from Benfica in the summer and has shown flashes of quality but at times has been caught out for being slightly rash and at times left his position, leaving gaps in the defence something that was most notable at The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
However, it seems Dias has improved his decision-making and this was most-evident this past week against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup semi-final, which City won 2-0, where Stones opened the scoring.
The Portuguese international successfully completed all of his tackles and aerial duels while making five interceptions and seven clearances, yet those impressive stats simply don’t do his performance justice.
United didn’t even play that badly, but they were limited to barely anything by the imposing City centre-halves and a heavily missed holding midfielder.
This certainly isn’t a knock at Rodri because he is a very talented player, but he’s no Fernandinho.
The Brazilian has been a key cog in every City trophy triumph, yet in more recent times he has been deployed in the centre of defence, to combat injuries and poor recruitment.
While he may be aging slightly at 35-years-old, his football brain and knowledge is still ticking and that was abundantly clear at Old Trafford.
Sitting just ahead of the mavericks in central defence, Fernandinho martialled City superbly, cutting off moves before they even truly developed and keeping arguably since his arrival in January the best creative midfielder in the world Bruno Fernandes quiet.
Understandably due to his age, the three-time Premier League winner can’t quite play as many minutes as he used to be able to and while Rodri has been a superb signing he doesn’t quite replicate the dominance and assurance that Fernandinho brings to City.
Through a multitude of factors, it seems as though Guardiola may have solved the defensive issue that has plagued his team for so many years. Now just imagine the goals begin to flow in consistently and City can replicate performances similar in those 45 minutes against Chelsea.
And similar to how their Manchester counterparts did, City have slyly climbed up the table and by earning maximum points from their two games in hand, it would take them above Liverpool and assuming United win their game in hand just a singular point behind the Red Devils.
Considering where they were nearly two months ago, it’s a tremendous and rapid turnaround, and if they can maintain the level of consistency they've shown in the past 12 games, in my opinion it is they’re Premier League title to lose.