Adaptability and flexibility are supposed to be massive parts of a manager’s armory in football. A lack of it can end up rendering him and his methods useless and outdated, allowing other, more flexible sides to run over them in a blink of an eye. If there’s a side that is currently facing this situation in a substantial manner, then it is Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Things have gone quite wrong for the Citizens recently and the 4-2 hammering at the hands of Champions Leicester City heaped further woes on Guardiola’s head and raised several question marks over whether his system is suitable for the Premier League or not. Two late goals in the game were only a bandage to the wound that Leicester had already forced City into enduring, after making a start that blew the Citizens away much before they could find their feet.
The Spaniard has this reputation of making his teams play a brand of football that is pleasing on the eye and good to watch. The style and swagger with which his Barcelona and Bayern Munich sides played went onto prove that he had achieved what he had wanted to- play attractive football and reap success. As he struggles to impose himself over his current side, glimpses of the trademark Guardiola style have been few and far in between. Although, it is a case of work in progress, short term achievements are increasingly being damaged by the presence of long-term ones.
Despite having won ten of the first games in charge, Guardiola has guided his side to only four wins in a total of 15 games. While the situation is a one that Guardiola hasn’t faced before, it’s a concerning one. Apart from the attacking flair that City have occasionally shown, it’s their defense that has let them down.
Guardiola’s liking for a high defensive line had helped his Barcelona and Bayern Munich sides to dictate possession and win the ball back quickly after having lost it. But the fact that City failed to win a single tackle in the first half hour at the King Power suggests that they’re at a significant disadvantage when keeping a high line. Teams, especially those in the Premier League, are more adept at playing on the break and in tackling when compared to most Bundesliga or La Liga sides.
While City have enjoyed the highest percentage of average possession at 61 and have the best passing accuracy in the league-84.9 percent, they have succeeded in dictating it around only in the front of the opposition. Teams know how to get rid of their attacks, which can well be nullified by sitting deep and packing their midfield with numbers. And sides have taken perfect advantage of City’s shaky defense, which has changed in every single game. Apart from the struggling John Stones, no other defender has managed to cement his place in the back line. The game against Leicester saw Stones play alongside Bacary Sagna and Aleks Kolarov, which clearly suggests that Guardiola has doubts about who to play and who not to. Or perhaps, he needs the defenders who fit his style.
Stones has committed most errors leading to goals over the past five years, let alone this season. More so, the Englishman has committed two more errors than anyone else since 2015, clearly suggestive of his weaknesses when defending. Against the Foxes, Stones had constantly failed to defend the space behind the back three and Vardy’s pace had troubled him throughout the game. He has been found wanting in terms of composure and accuracy, when the opposition has been pressing the City backline. He has committed errors when pressurized in possession and it does seem as if the 50 million price tag is something he isn’t living up to.
The chopping and changing has meant that City have lost the uncertainty about them. The lack of a proper defensive line and changes in formations have troubled the side a lot throughout this season. While it does suggest that Guardiola doesn’t know his best team yet, it goes to show that he isn’t confident in many of his players right now. City happen to be the side which has made the most changes this season-50 and although, a majority of the changes made by the Spaniard have come due to the intention of countering the opposition, but things work differently in the Premier League. And for that, you’ve got to tackle.
And obsession for possession at the back has meant that Claudio Bravo hasn’t lived up to his hype and quality. There have been times when the former Barcelona man has been caught in possession when playing around excessively with it. And the problems root from the inability to realize that teams press more frantically in the Premier League than any other league and you have very less time on the ball to work with the ball. He may be a world-class goalkeeper, but his skills set don’t seem to match that of Premier League goalkeepers. Teams have pressed City high up the pitch, with the motive of catching Bravo off guard the only reason behind it. He needs to stop flaunting around with the ball and be more no nonsense with it, as things stand.
The current Manchester City side is currently some yards off the side that Guardiola inherited at Bayern and Barcelona. Using Kolarov and Sagna as Boateng and Lahm clearly shows that he doesn’t have a perfect squad at his disposal to work his magic. They’ve looked uncomfortable in their new positions and a number of others such as Pablo Zabaleta, aren’t sure about what to do. The Argentine has been utilised in the central midfield of late and he has lost that spark about him these days, probably because of the new position that has been handed to him.
At his former clubs, Guardiola had players who knew how to the operate between the lines, say someone like Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. He doesn’t seem to have players of that mould at City at the moment and they held a key to his possession oriented style of play during his tenure at both Bayern and Barcelona.
And although, it’s a work in progress, but looking at how things are going on right now, they can get worse. With a busy Christmas period now approaching, not losing games would be a key and especially with Spurs and Manchester United in close pursuit of them, consistency has to be a key. And that can only happen if Pep Guardiola forgets his arrogance and adorance for what he’s known for. He’s lost his identity already and now, he has to take maximum advantage of that. He looks like a spent force quite often and things can go horribly wrong if this continues.