Manchester City are stuck in the middle of nowhere in the Premier League. They probably aren’t winning the title and they aren’t dropping out of the top four either. Many issues and gaps have emerged in the side that were left unplugged and they have been costing the team on a consistent basis this season.
Many stats from the ongoing league campaign can alarm City fans and Pep Guardiola. With Liverpool flying high at the top with a brick-like gap between them and the chasing pack, City are entering a crucial phase in history. If they get rid of this transition well, they can go right to the top again. If they don’t, this process can fall through.
But the most alarming stat could easily be this- they’ve conceded the second-highest percentage of shots on target from the six-yard box- 12 percent. Not just that, but they’ve also conceded the highest percentage of shots from the 18-yard both- 60 percent. That is a clear reflection of how teams have found it very easy to play through City.
Getting overrun in midfield is ideally one of Pep Guardiola’s worst nightmares. This is a manager whose teams have taken pride in outnumbering teams in midfield over the past decade. Be it his Barcelona side, Bayern Munich side of the City team from the last two seasons, they’ve been adept in overrunning the opposition midfield.
This problem though doesn’t take root in City’s midfield. It takes root in their lack of depth at the back.
The club failed to replace Vincent Kompany. Despite links with Harry Maguire, they didn’t sign a single central defender, leaving them light in that part of the pitch. That lack of depth and the injury to Aymeric Laporte has left Fernandinho to play as a central defender regularly. All 27 of his appearances have come at centre-back.
While he hasn’t been bad at all. But Fernandinho’s role in defensive midfield went under-the-radar many times over the last two seasons. His tendency to make cheap, tactical fouls and his intercepting ability make City tough to break past. Playing deeper has seen him make only 0.9 interceptions per game and make only 0.9 fouls per game. Both are the lowest numbers for him since Guardiola took over.
As for his ‘replacement’ Rodri, the summer signing has made only 0.9 interceptions per game himself. He’s made only 1.3 fouls per game. Both of them are much lower than Fernandinho’s tallies from the last two seasons. And that is where City have fallen back in defence.
Rodri has been very good in possession, fitting into the system seamlessly. But he’s still learning the trade of being cunning off the ball- something Fernandinho was the expert of. But if City had signed a central defender- say Unai Nunez himself, Fernandinho could have played in his original position and City would’ve been much tougher to breakdown.
The club has spent big on the defence over the years. But no team is too far away from the transition, not even City. There seems to be a lesser bit of intensity in their press and that is again a reason why City have been slack when tracking back. Bernardo Silva’s tackle success rate has come down from 75 percent from last season to 48 percent this season.
That is a reflection of things. It isn’t as intense as it was last season or before that. There isn’t as much ruthlessness about them as there used to be. Leroy Sane’s injury has taken some vital depth out of the side and Guardiola should be grateful for how Riyad Mahrez has risen to prominence to pick up some crucial points for the side.
Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus have both underperformed on their XGs by 2.31 and 3.55 respectively. That has been a key part of them underperforming on their XG on the whole too. Individual errors at the back have seen them underperform on their XGA, leading to a total underperformance of 6.41 in terms of Expected Points.
Having Sane fit could have added more to the attack and the underperformance could have been much lesser. The same goes for the defence, if the club had signed a central defender and the whole order of the backline may not have been dislodged.
But Guardiola has done enough to earn the trust of those who spend in the market for City. Some of the defensive signings may not have gone to plan. And it is normal for some signings to fail and some signings to not. But for a team that is stuck in transition for a brief while, they can’t do anything apart from trusting him.
Tottenham found themselves in a transition period under Mauricio Pochettino but got rid of the Argentine in a reactionary manner. That comparison would be unfair considering City have enough money to help any of their managers to emerge out of transitions.
The current situation can be a case of some players not wanting to be there or there being staleness in the team- like it was at Spurs. Some players would be needed to be moved on. New players need to come in. City have shown that they are very good at getting players of the right position. They did go wrong in the summer. But they can’t go wrong.
That is why the upcoming summer transfer window will be very crucial indeed. It will spark a much-needed reboot. Or the managerial cycle might just end soon.