Manchester City were lucky to escape with a point against Leeds United.
Manchester City and Leeds played out an end-to-end, thrilling 1-1 draw that was as much on Leeds’ good performance as it was another poor showing from City. Leeds have had a bright start to life in the top flight under the mercurial Marcelo Bielsa, but the former champions were not at the races as they slumped to eight points off the league summit after just three games.
1. Benjamin Mendy: The Honest Truth
City supporters and staff have given Benjamin Mendy opportunities at every turn. After arriving for a massive fee, he has suffered constant long-term injuries in between flashes of brilliance. However, even when fit, it is now clear that the consistency is simply not there. In three Premier League games, three top managers, Nuno Espírito Santo, Brendan Rodgers, and Marcelo Bielsa, have all decided to target Mendy as the focal point of their attacks. All three have prospered from that decision.
He is a defensive liability, looks clunky on the ball, and lacks positional awareness. City do not have time to bring in another left-back, and João Cancelo is an incredibly talented player who should be first choice as soon as he is fit. Past that, Nathan Aké should fight for first-team opportunities while Oleksandr Zinchenko and Mendy fill in for rotation and in the cups. The fact that a natural right-back and center back are City’s two best left-backs is telling of a failed transfer strategy in this position.
2. Rúben Dias Will Be a Success, But Not a Savior
After just arriving at the club, City’s star big-money defender was dramatically thrust into the limelight with a weekend debut. Dias played well individually, but the same problems continued to haunt City: they looked vulnerable at every turn. We chalked up the Leicester defeat on the thought that three of the back four should not be first choice, but in this match, outside of Mendy, this was City’s best backline.
For City to truly contend, they needed Dias to have a Virgil Van Dijk-type impact on the defense and mask a multitude of problems. While City have certainly improved their defense, this one-game sample size indicates that Dias will not live up to these lofty aspirations, though it is no fault of his own. He will be a good player and leader for the team, but perhaps the bar of expectation is too high.
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3. The Beginning of the End?
Pep Guardiola is now entering his fifth season in charge at the Etihad Stadium. The club has been practically built in his image, from board level down. He has never remained in one place for this long, even during his legendary tenure at boyhood club Barcelona. With his contract expiring at the end of the season and City’s levels continuing to drop, the end of what has been a historic partnership could be near.
Everyone involved wants City to have success with the Catalan in charge, but the reality is that Guardiola has been deflecting in post-match interviews to give the impression that nothing is seriously wrong. This is not the case. City have major systematic issues that look as if Guardiola’s message has gone stale, while he continues to flip-flop in terms of how to structure his midfield since there are problems no matter what he tries. With teams such as Leicester and Everton improving alongside perennial threats such as Manchester United, Chelsea, and Tottenham, City could struggle to achieve the bare minimum: a top-four finish.
Tottenham showed similar signs last season during Mauricio Pochettino’s final year, as did José Mourinho’s Chelsea during the end of his second stint. Football moves in cycles, and maintaining such a high-intensity style over five years is a difficult ask, and if the wheels fall off as it did in those situations, City will have decisions to make. I doubt City will sack Guardiola under any circumstances in midseason, but a mutual parting of ways seems on the cards in the summer. There is no guarantee that these warning signs will turn into full-on trouble, but denying that they exist would simply be burying one’s head in the sand.