Manchester City’s 4-0 defeat by Everton was symbolic in a number of ways, not only serving as Pep Guardiola’s worst defeat as a club manager but further proof if needed that his new side are perhaps still a season away from really challenging for the Premier League title. For all of City’s good form at the start of the season, with the benefit of hindsight the club’s succession of wins merely paved over the cracks with City’s latest thrashing highlighting the many areas that Guardiola needs to address as soon as possible. And even despite the belief that a club can still be considered to be in the title race even in City’s current league position, it would appear that after several high profile defeats against fellow title competitors and points dropped against teams at the opposite end of the table, the clubs dream of securing a third league title in six seasons is over for this year. With City’s latest defeat according to many of the club’s fans providing a much needed and arguably overdue wake up call as well as a time for reflection regarding what must change at the club, in a similar thoughtful approach @ASelbyInfo takes a look at five major talking points following Everton’s 4-0 victory at Goodison Park and what it really means for Manchester City heading into the business end of the Premier League season.
Does Bravo need to go?
No matter which way you to choose to look at it, the statistics certainly aren’t great for Claudio Bravo. Although two points better off than after the same amount of games played last season, Manchester City have conceded 5 goals more than the 21 goals conceded after the same amount of games last season. Meanwhile looking at Claudio Bravo’s performance individually, after being widely reported at weekend the Chilean has now conceded 14 goals from the last 22 shots on target that he has encountered in the Premier League whilst Guardiola’s side have also conceded a goal from the first shot faced on four occasions in the club’s last seven matches. Likewise among goalkeepers that have played 15 games or more so far this season, Bravo ranks at 14th with regards to overall save percentage (57.41%) which certainly isn’t good enough for a team with Premier League title ambitions. To the neutral it may seem like early days in Bravo’s career and the former FC Barcelona man may still be finding his feet under Pep Guardiola but in footballing terms, there is no time like the present and in many ways the criticism that Bravo has been given this week is deserved.
As much as City fans may wonder how much better off they would be under Joe Hart, one thing for definite is that in terms of shot stopping perhaps Hart would be the much better candidate right now for the club. With such damning statistics going against City’s new Number One, although Guardiola is unlikely to swallow his pride and bring back Joe Hart any time soon in place of the Chilean next season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the club try and bring in another, possibly younger goalkeeper in the summer albeit in keeping with Pep’s philosophy of playing out from the back; Ederson Moraes of SL Benfica and Real Sociedad’s Geronimo Rulli have been continually linked with moves to the club in recent weeks. Meanwhile for the time being, inevitably running low on confidence it may be worth Guardiola rotating Bravo with backup keeper Willy Caballero in order to allow Claudio time to get back to his best should he have any fighting chance of staying at the club next season. Take Bravo out of the limelight in the short-term and who knows, maybe Bravo would then have a much longer-term future at the club.
Is age really just a number?
With both the clubs summer recruitment clearly aimed at bringing in some of the finest young talents not only from across Europe (Oleksandr Zinchenko) but South America (Gabriel Jesus, Marlos Moreno) as well as the club’s CFA which continues to host City’s young players through the varying youth levels at the club, the question on the lips of all blues fans is when will we actually see some of the many highly rated and well-talked up youngsters make a name for themselves in the club’s professional first team?
Although Kelechi Iheanacho has featured regularly off the bench and Aleix Garcia has earned some valuable first-team experience this season in both domestic cup competitions, you need only look through City’s regular starting XI which is largely made up of players that won the club’s first Premier League title back in the 2011/12 season. Frankly Kolarov, Zabaleta, Yaya Touré, Silva and Aguero are not getting any younger and whilst attempts have clearly been made to bring the average squad age down through a mixture of homegrown talents and youth players that have been brought in from further afield, City’s lineup during Sunday’s 4-0 defeat to Everton the club illustrated the ongoing difficulties that the club has in bringing down the average age of a regular starting XI – fielding a starting XI which on average was much than the one the club put out against Everton in the exact same fixture last season.
Inevitably such influential players, representative of a new and much more successful era at the club are going to be difficult to replace but brushing all sentimentality to one side, it is imperative for the club to be giving young players a chance if they wish to move forward as otherwise they run the real risk of being left behind for seasons to come. Similarly it is all well and good purchasing numerous young players for the future, youngsters saddled with substantial transfer values before loaned out to the Netherlands or La Liga amongst many other European leagues but in a similar vein to the signing of Raheem Sterling and John Stones, it is about time the club prioritised next season’s starting XI in future youth recruitment. By signing young but first-team quality players as opposed to older squad fillers and occasional first-team starters, not only would it bring the average of City’s rotating starting XI down game by game, but it would further provide a much more sustainable work in progress for future managers to follow after Guardiola is long gone.
Passing for passing sake and City’s possession syndrome
With so much talk about Pep Guardiola’s fascination with ‘tiki-taka’ and his intentions to bring a much different, winning style of play to the English game, largely concentrating on dominating the game through possession as they key to winning games as well as wanting his goalkeepers to be confident with their feet in playing with their feet, it almost seems that in trying to implement a new footballing style that Manchester City have forgotten how to win the old way. In terms of possession during Sunday’s league defeat to Everton, Guardiola’s side dominated proceedings with 71% of the ball throughout the game yet still lost the game by four goals. At first glance it may seem like just a bad day at the office for the club but it is only when you delve into City’s major defeats this season against title competitors when you quickly realise that this has been a far too familiar tale for Manchester City with Guardiola’s side regularly keeping the ball for long periods of the game yet doing next to nothing with it.
During a 1-0 defeat by Liverpool it was 57% possession, against Chelsea it was 61%, Spurs 58% and against reigning champions Leicester City it was worse still for Guardiola’s men with City reaching a staggering 78% of possession come the end of the game but still convincingly losing the game 4-1 – even worse still had it not been for two late consolation goals! Clearly Guardiola’s possession based football is a work in progress and one that will take time to not only work but to have success on the pitch. Yet despite rare glimpses of such a style leading to convincing wins for City with a 5-0 thrashing of West Ham United perhaps the most visible example of the former FC Barcelona’s ideology in action, you cannot help but think that City need a Plan B ,C and D this season and beyond to at least ensure that they are able to keep up the pace with fellow title contenders and this season alone, at least earn a coveted Champions League place for next season, let alone any possible title challenge. Evidently dominating games and having all the possession is great when you are winning but when things are going against you, City really shouldn’t be passing for passing sake and attempting to control games from start to finish. When Guardiola´s side have been unable to control how many goals they are conceding at the other end, a more pragmatic approach would to go more direct and then concentrate on perhaps using possession as a means to win after he has fully settled into life in the English top flight.
City’s midfield could have had it all…
It seems that when Yaya Touré or Kevin de Bruyne perform, City perform but with both players adopting much deeper roles during City’s 4-0 defeat against Everton , not only were the Belgian and Ivorian powerhouses incredibly isolated throughout the game but in being much further back on the pitch, from the heart of midfield neither were really able to in any way influence the proceedings on the pitch. On paper whilst it seemed like Guardiola’s side lined up in a 4-2-3-1, anchored by a makeshift midfield pairing of Yaya Touré in a more traditional defensive midfield role alongside Pablo Zabaleta who swapped playing at right-back for playing right in the heart of the City midfield, during the game itself player roles and instructions however seemed much different. Sitting in front of the City stalwarts should have been the ever reliable Kevin de Bruyne, who out of nothing saved Manchester City too many times to recall last season and in sitting behind Sergio Aguero looked set to pull the strings as City’s focal point of attack. However as the game pannedout if anything it was the former Chelsea and VfL Wolfsburg man that in fact dropped back to cover the space left by an attack minded Zabaleta, alongside dropping deep in an attempt to try and get that bit more involved in a game of very few clear-cut chances for Manchester City.
With City’s midfield duo of Fernando and Gundogan out of last Sunday’s clash due to injury and Fernandinho missing the game through suspension, clearly City weren’t at full strength and Everton appeared to capitalise on Guardiola’s rotation in midfield as Koeman’s more direct attacking approach proved more successful against an out of sorts Manchester City midfield. City undoubtedly lacked a cutting edge throughout the game and when you consider that Zabaleta, in such a pivotal position and able to influence the game from midfield, only made 30 passes before going off as a second-half substitute and 40 fewer than Touré, clearly individual mistakes proved costly, as did Toure’s heavy touch for Everton’s second goal. Inevitably you would think that things will naturally change following Fernandinho’s return to the side but City’s 4-0 defeat not only underlined the importance of both an in-form Touré and De Bruyne, or at least either one of them playing in their most effective position rather than sitting too deep.
A harsh lesson for Guardiola about life in the Premier League
As it stands you would have to discount City from having any real chance of winning the Premier League and with the post-mortem already beginning after a fantastic start to the season which had many pundits even suggesting that the club could coast to a Premier League title after a matter of league games played, fans and players alike have will have inevitably been brought back to earth with several eye-opening defeats against sides that City need to be beating to stand any chance of winning the title this season.
Although many have now pointed to the size of the rebuilding project that Guardiola will have to face during his time at the club, only just realising the full scale of the job at hand with an aging squad and a whole new defence needed, given Guardiola’s CV and his success in La Liga and the Bundesliga many thought that the former FC Barcelona man would have perhaps enjoyed his start to life in England much more than he has at present. Clearly Pep will be given time at Manchester City to attempt to adopt his philosophy little by little and consequently lead the club to a Champions League title which they so desperately desire, in many ways and ticking the final box of honours earned since the club was took over back in 2008. However right now Guardiola is unsurprisingly and somewhat deservedly facing his critics.
With the pressure on Pep Guardiola higher than ever before to be successful with a team that are perhaps not the biggest or not even most prestigious in the Premier League, praise will only come when results the results do for Manchester City but his stuttering start to life at Manchester City should not mean that Guardiola is treated as any lesser of a manager than he was previously. Thankfully for Pep with the benefit of time on his side and as you would would expect the funds available to bring in the players that he sees fit for a title challenge next season, combined with a summer clear-out widely reported to bring in some much needed quality and bring down the average age of the current City squad, the end certainly isn’t nigh for Guardiola. Only in a years time will we know for definite whether Guardiola is cut out for the Premier League but for now let’s sit back and try to enjoy the new ideas that Guardiola is trying to bring to English football, albeit with its many flaws and teething problems and with any luck his second half of the season, with time, may be that bit better than the end of the first because after all… it is a game of two halves.