The abysmal Manchester City performance in the Carabao Cup leads into a massive Manchester Derby & and a huge clash with bitter rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford for the early kick off on Saturday.
I’ve taken a look at what’s been happening on the pitch prior to the World Cup and post World Cup, ahead of arguably the biggest game of Manchester City’s season.
The season so far has obviously been affected by the World Cup, that was always going to happen but the Manchester City performances have been trending into the inconsistent, and at times downright abysmal since the Liverpool game in mid October at Anfield.
Leading into the game at Anfield City were flying, with Erling Haaland banging in goals for fun, Phil Foden looking like he was about to take the next step & the free flowing football we have grown accustomed to under Pep Guardiola in full display.
That game saw the first part of the tinkering with the line up from Guardiola away from what had served Manchester City so well, with a change defensively to the tried and traditional set up.
An argument could be made that it cost us three points that day, and the strange tactical tweaks and line ups have continued to this point of the season.
Since that game, the free flowing football from Manchester City has barely been sighted, the heights of early in the season haven’t been reached since. Teams have come to the Etihad with their low defensive block and been successful.
Brentford came to the Etihad and left with three points, which they fully deserved and put in a great performance against a lethargic and tired looking Manchester City. Everton came with a similar set up, and frustrated Manchester City at the Etihad and left with a point after a spiteful first half, and a Demarai Gray wonder goal in the second.
Everton frustrated Manchester City, and lead to a spiteful first half but they got what they came for. It was another performance from City that was poor and for me culminated in the Southampton disaster mid week in the Cup.
The Southampton performance was one of the poorest from a Manchester City side under Pep Guardiola in his tenure at the club. The line up itself should’ve been more than good enough to perform at St. Mary’s.
To Southampton’s credit they didn’t allow City to settle, and they fully deserved to go through to the Carabao Cup semi finals at City’s expense. That performance had been coming for some time as covered previously. So what has gone wrong since the game at Anfield?
The World Cup has to be a factor, with at times in the lead up the fixture congestion making it appear that City are leggy and tired playing so many games. The squad also needs to be rotated so everyone can get minutes and form, and rest key players with what’s to come.
But that excuse and the rotation excuse can only be used for so long. Every other team has been affected by it, and not every other team has the same issues. And there is enough quality in the squad to overcome both issues.
Guardiola has shifted tactically away from the traditional 4-3-3, and prioritising control of the game and possession in midfield over the usual free flowing football we have traditionally seen at the Etihad.
The constant line up changes and tactical shifts have to be affecting the players. City aren’t creating the chances we used to see regularly and teams have set up with a back five, clogging the pitch centrally and are severely limiting the chances for Erling Haaland and co.
We did see a plethora of chances created for Haaland early in the season, now with the service restricted for Erling, and in general the goals aren’t flowing. Something that urgently needs to be addressed.
Perhaps a shift back to the City traditional set up may awaken the players to perform as they do best. With the constant tactical shifts & tweaks at times our players look confused and devoid of ideas, resulting in possession going backwards and sideways, possibly it’s time for Pep to let the players do what they do best and get at the opposition.
The form of certain players or lack thereof has been alarming, the drop off in a few is alarming, a few immediately come to mind. Joao Cancelo’s form has fallen off a cliff. He barely resembles the player who was in the team of the season last season, and created so many chances going forward.
He has looked at his best playing at left back cutting in. Lately he’s been on the right & centrally and everywhere else but he hasn’t resembled the player we all know he can be. He can lift but he isn’t alone there.
Phil Foden is another that needs to get back to his best, and we need it quickly. Foden at his best is unplayable but for whatever reason Phil hasn’t been starting games, that began before the World Cup and has continued since.
Early in the season it appeared Phil was about to take the next step especially post his hat trick against United, but his form has wavered and we need him to get back to his best quickly.
Kalvin Phillips finally made his first start for us against Southampton in the Carabao Cup after a massive injury lay off, a World Cup where he barely featured and other substitution appearances.
He appeared a long way off the level required to contend with Rodri for the starting role as the anchor in Manchester City’s midfield which is to be expected with the injuries he’s had and lack of football, but he has the quality and with such a congested fixture time for him to step up and be the player we all know he is capable of being.
The other elephant in the room is this the last dance with De Bruyne, Gundogan & Bernardo in the midfield? I had a feeling leading into the season that it could be. Bernardo wanting to leave Manchester is widely known, and possibly the time has come for that bridge to be crossed in the summer.
You cannot fault Bernardo’s effort, work rate and desire when he’s on the pitch, he’s a warrior. But possibly the time has come if the required fee is met to part ways. A question & answer for the summer there.
Kevin De Bruyne is 31 approaching 32, the magic is still is there as emphasized by his assist tally and the amount of times he looks like and is our most threatening creative player.
He looks to desperately need help in midfield as age seems to be catching up with him and the demands of modern football and the amount of games Kev plays for both club & country is surely a factor in Kev’s up and down performances of late.
Ilkay Gundogan is also around the same age as Kev, he’s a vital part of the team with his quality in midfield and skillset. He’s vital with the role he plays in midfield distributing and his late runs into the box for goals.
The runs into the box have seemed to be not seen as much in his most recent performances, so you do wonder if Father Time is catching up to Ilkay, as well as Kev. That question will be answered at the end of the season, but performances of late may indicate their era of success is nearing an end.
It’s not all doom & gloom leading into the derby, there are positives especially in Rico Lewis and his performances and development. Riyad Mahrez returning to his best in recent games is another one.
Jack Grealish is beginning to look like he’s coming into his best at City. John Stones is clearly our best centre back, and one of the best in England.
The performance against Chelsea in the FA Cup less than a week ago is another positive. It showed the quality is there we just need a lift across the entire squad to kick start the second half of the season and our title chase.
Bing on the derby, a challenge away to an in form Manchester United. I’m sure with the quality in our squad, and under Guardiola it’s a challenge that should lift the squad out of their current malaise, and one they’ll respond to.
A win at Old Trafford will lift the mood of City supporters after the Southampton debacle.
I cannot wait for the game, so Come on City!!!!