Something isn’t right at Manchester City. That’s the overriding feeling after another game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for Manchester City, and the usual has happened as it does at that stadium for Manchester City.
City huff & puff and come away with a loss and no goals in a flat and at times lethargic performance in a vital Premier League game.
A chance had presented itself pre game with Arsenal dropping points to Everton. For the first 10 minutes against Tottenham it seemed Manchester City were up for the fight, but a mistake from Rodri lead to the only goal of the game from Harry Kane, and City never fully recovered from the early set back.
To not seize a chance like the one presented by Arsenal pre game was something that isn’t like Manchester City of the past two seasons, the Champions usually don’t pass opportunities like that by.
But this isn’t the Manchester City side of the past two seasons, and a lot of recent issues showed their face again in the game away at Tottenham.
This isn’t a game review, this article is more looking at the issues with the side & squad currently. The result against and Tottenham and the team’s performance isn’t new, it’s been happening for to long now to be considered a blip.
Since the 6-3 win over Manchester United in early October, Manchester City performances have suffered a alarming dip, and teams seemed to have figured out how to shut down the service to Erling Haaland.
In league losses to Liverpool, Brentford, United and Tottenham, Haaland has had his service cut all together, as the teams mentioned have stifled City’s midfield and ball movement. This resulting in City playing passively and backwards and sideways to all City fans frustration.
Haaland cut a frustrated figure against Tottenham especially. Haaland is making the runs in behind, but they aren’t being honoured.
Twice against Tottenham Haaland made the run and the ball never came. Early on Bernardo Silva was running at the Tottenham defence, Haaland made the run and Bernardo decided to play the ball either backwards or sideways, when the through ball was obvious.
Whether it’s a tactical decision or something else it’s cutting Haaland out of the game, and wasting one of City’s biggest weapons. The fact Haaland didn’t have a chance created for him against Tottenham is borderline criminal and needs to be rectified as soon as possible.
This season has been a adjustment to playing with a proper number 9 after two seasons without one. But there comes a point where the players have to play to the teams strength, and not for control of possession.
With risk comes reward, a mantra City under Guardiola have always played with. But with the low block employed against Manchester City the team looks devoid of ideas.
Is that a symptom of a lack of confidence amongst the squad, or how the squad is made up will be a question answered once the season ends, but with the poor performances racking up the answer is leaning towards it being a issue of how the squad is made up and the tactics employed.
There is a lack of width and pace in wide areas. Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish while both have been outstanding of late, prefer to cut inside and their strengths are as inverted wingers.
Problem as I see it they’re cutting into the centre which is cluttered with the low block employed by the opponent, and amplified with inverted full backs City are currently operating with.
There is no space for them, or any Manchester City midfielders to operate in, to create chances for Haaland & Alvarez, so the team just passes backwards and sideways.
It’s a major source of frustration amongst supporters but the lack of natural pace out wide and any width at all is making it easier for the opponent to shut City down.
What solution to this amongst the current squad exists is only to give Sergio Gomez a opportunity at left back, especially after the sudden departure of Joao Cancelo to Bayern Munich. Gomez hasn’t shown a lot thus far at City.
The step up is a massive one for the lad coming from Anderlecht and he’s been found wanting in his appearances to date. The only way he’s going to learn is by playing games so hopefully there’s a opportunity soon enough to trial it and see if it’s sink or swim for Gomez this season.
The other elephant in the room is why Dias and Laporte specifically aren’t playing at all. Manchester City’s build up play has slowed to a pedestrian pace, due to the opposition tactical set up and the limits in the passing play of Manuel Akanji and Nathan Ake at the back.
That’s not a knock on either lad, as they’ve both been great this season, Ake especially deserves to be one of the first on the team sheet. But the drop off from Dias and Laporte has stood out, and there has to be a reason either aren’t being picked.
Dias when on form seems to be the leader City have lacked since the departure of Fernandinho, we need him back on form now more then ever for the rest of this season. His leadership has sorely been lacking, and surely he’s fit enough to play after his injury at the World Cup.
Aymeric Laporte obviously came into the season injured on the back of his heroics late last season. When at his best he is City’s best defender with the ball at his feet.
That talent has been missing, and is needed as City’s build up play has been stagnant for sometime now, and a return to form for Laporte could help with things further up the pitch.
I did write a earlier piece wondering if this was the last dance with the squad especially the midfield in its current form. A month or so after that piece, the answer for me seems obvious.
Without Kevin De Bruyne who didn’t start against Tottenham the midfield lacks any semblance of creativity, and doesn’t seem to have anyone who can create chances outside of De Bruyne.
Perhaps it’s time for Phil Foden to move central and start to develop him there. Whilst Foden has been injured of late, and missed the Spurs game through illness, his skillset may open up something new and more dynamic in the centre of midfield.
Bernardo Silva isn’t doing it at the moment, he looks a long way off the player we all know he can be, and possibly he’s mentally checked out of being at Manchester City.
His desire to leave is well known, and past efforts have earnt Bernardo Silva credits in the bank. But on current form Bernardo doesn’t deserve to start .
I don’t doubt he can return to form the rest of the season, but he needs to snap out of whatever is holding him back performance wise.
Going forward to maintain a title chase a lift is required by everyone, possibly Pep Guardiola included. Guardiola fired a salvo at the entire club post the 4-2 over Tottenham at home asking for more from the home fans, the players and everyone else connected with the club.
Perhaps it’s time Pep returns the team to the set up the players know, and takes the handbrake off. Perhaps foregoing control of the game, and playing a bit quicker when in possession may open the team up, but it could get the players back to playing the way we all know.
It may not work either but the status quo can’t continue or the title will be out of sight by the end of February.
It’s not all gone yet, with Manchester City still in the FA Cup, the Champions League second round against RB Leipzig around the corner and still within striking distance of the league leaders.
But a lift is required from everyone at the Etihad. It has to begin at home against Aston Villa.
For me it’s the last dance with the current midfield and champions of the club, and as a City fan they deserve to go down falling on their sword rather then passing sideways in a whimper.
A refresh in the summer window appears to be coming, and we’d all love nothing more then to see this midfield group and others rise to the challenge once more.