Last season was a story of defiance for Pep Guardiola. Following a superb start to life in England, which included six wins in six for Manchester City, the former Barcelona manager saw his team fall away.
In the end, they finished 3rd, a whopping 15 points behind eventual champions Chelsea. Guardiola knew he had to wring the changes, and if he wanted to maintain his philosophy of tiki-taka football, needed a completely different-looking outfit. Cue a summer spending spree of over £200 million, and the results are starting to show.
Saturday’s victory over Chelsea was very significant. With a 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, not only did City make a huge statement at the home of the champions, they also proved that they could mix it up and grind out narrow victories when needed. They had scored 16 goals in three games prior to this one. They were obviously not going to be able to maintain that average against the Blues, but their performance was as convincing as can be. They currently sit top of the table, level on points with neighbours United but with a goal difference. With the fixture list being kind to them in the next couple of months, City will want to take maximum points and open up a gap at the summit.
City have averaged over 65% possession this season, along with a passing accuracy of close to 90%. With the addition of wing-backs Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker, they have always had an outlet out wide. This has allowed them to dominate every game they’ve played in thus far.
The old weaknesses remain
At the end of the day though, City can be got at if they’re not clinical enough. The likes of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling are all technically brilliant, but offer nothing defensively. As long as they continue to dominate possession, these players will thrive and produce special moments. If they face a well-drilled defence who hit them on the counter attack though, they can be left open.
There is a clear lack of physicality in central midfield, with Fernandinho being the most experienced play at Guardiola’s disposal in that position. Yaya Toure is still at the club, but hasn’t featured at all this season. The two centre-backs John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi are prone to errors every now and then. If a team can have a situation where they are man for man against the City backline, Guardiola’s men will be left exposed.
For now though, the Spaniard has been successful in enforcing his attacking philosophy on this team. His possession-heavy football is also translating into more goals. There will be games though, where he will have to mix it up.
Sergio Aguero has been ruled out for the foreseeable future after a car accident in Holland. This leaves a lot of the goalscoring responsibility with Gabriel Jesus. The 20 year-old has been fantastic since joining the club last season, but this is first true test at proving himself week-in, week-out. City haven’t really got too many difficult games in October and November, with Arsenal in the league and Napoli (twice) in the Champions League being the biggest tests. It could be the perfect opportunity for Jesus to establish himself as a shoo-in in the starting XI.
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