Manchester City are currently dismantling their title chances almost every time they set off on their Premier League travels. The poor results just keep on coming with another narrow defeat at Sunderland this Sunday. Interestingly, City are yet to lose by more than one goal, which shows there’s a significant factor causing these defeats. Defensive lapses of concentration, poor goalkeeping, no Plan B to break the opposition down are all factors of this dreadful form. The fact that this team, full of superstars, so heavily rely upon one man above all is striking. There is an undeniable reliance on their captain Vincent Kompany. He is one the world’s best defenders so it can be excused slightly, however, with the resources that have been used assembling this squad there are still questions to be answered. He has an aura that breathes confidence not only into his fellow defenders but also gives midfielders freedom to focus on their own game.
On the other hand, City have a team full of ‘world class’ players and cannot be forgiven for blaming this solely on the absence of Kompany. Manuel Pelligrini and his City team must immediately address why they cannot manage to win games they ought to away from home, with or without their leader. There is news that Kompany is out for a further 3 weeks and Manchester City can ill afford to let this run continue until then.
Chelsea aside, City have played away from home to teams that all currently lie in the bottom half of the Barclays Premier League table. During this process they have picked up a disappointing 4 points from a possible 18. Cardiff scored three extremely avoidable goals on their way to a surprise victory, including two from badly defended corners. Referring to the earlier point of Vincent Kompany’s influence, he has only played in one of the defeats this season, at Aston Villa. Recalling events from that game, two of the three Villa goals were City mistakes. The first was offside and therefore not a mistake of their own but the official’s fault, however, the other two were errors that Man City brought upon themselves. A silly free kick on the edge of the box for the second, and then a pattern of events that would reappear to haunt them at Stamford Bridge just a few weeks later. A long ball, punted upfield, Joe Hart caught in no man’s land, and the ball running through for a simple tap in to win the game. Joe Hart has subsequently been dropped since his infamous error in injury time at Chelsea.
In many ways, Sunday’s game at Sunderland showed that there is much more to be resolved than simply dropping England’s number one. There seems to be a major concern as to the vulnerability of this defence. It should be reminded that this is a Manchester City defence that has lead the goals against column in each of the last three Premier League season’s. Only Demichelis is a Pelligrini signing, and he was mainly brought in as an experienced backup option. People unfamiliar with City would be forgiven for seeing the whole defence as newcomers when watching on this season. It was the focus of Roberto Mancini when he first arrived at the club to build from the back. He instilled a solidity they can only dream of at the minute. Critics called it boring in the 2010/11 season when Mancini steered City into Champions League qualification with many low scoring away wins accompanied by numerous 0-0 draws. If Pelligrini could adopt this mentality in certain fixtures City would certainly not be sitting in 8th position during mid-November this season.
From the stats below, it is obvious to see this is a match City dominated, and 9 times out of 10 would probably win, that however is not going to ensure City reclaim the Premiership trophy come May.
This fixture was statistically dominated by Manchester City: passing accuracy, total shots, possession, they were all areas of the game City won hands down. It is the figure at the bottom of the screen that sums up City on the road this season though, errors leading to goals. Sunderland were bombarded all game, no doubt low on confidence after their own start to the season, and they managed a disciplined, organised, and flawless defensive performance. The same can not be said for the boys in blue and this is a matter of urgency for those within the club to resolve. It has become inexcusable now and certainly not coincidence. Clichy looks lost, Nastasic a good player but still needing Kompany’s guidance. Lescott has largely been overlooked and suffers the same problem as Dzeko upfront, he’s losing his sharpness on the sidelines. Only one part of this table is ultimately relevant though: Sunderland 1 Man City 0.
If City keep producing results on the road as they have been, their title challenge will be all but over before the turn of the year. In a season when all the big boys are dropping points, with no one really seizing the initiative, Pelligrini must find answers rapidly to ensure his team last the full marathon of challenging until May.