You could write Manchester City’s defeat to Leicester off as a product of a chaotic season, but it’s more likely to be a consequence of their longer-term issues…
Manchester City have a negative goal difference for the first time since 2008.
It’s just one of the many odd things we will see in this very odd season, but rather than being a product of an endlessly chaotic 2020, is their 5-2 defeat to Leicester City at the weekend another sign of things going a little wrong at City?
For one, they displayed a mental weakness that we’ve discussed before on The Totally Football Show.
“We’ve talked about their habit of conceding goals in clusters,” said Daniel Storey on the podcast this week. “They did it against numerous teams last season, the Wolves ones being the best example because they did it in both games against them.
“The sloppiness has become so regular that it’s more commonplace than not now. They will have games when they swat teams aside because teams don’t lay a glove on them, but it was almost as if Leicester had one attack, when Harvey Barnes got in behind and then it was snuffed out by Garcia, then looked at each other and went: “these aren’t very good. If we attack them they will crumble.” And that’s exactly what happened.”
Of course, with Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Aymeric Laporte all out and with defensive reinforcements having not yet arrived, City are not in an ideal spot at the moment. However, that isn’t an excuse or even reason for their problems.
“The injuries are a mitigating circumstance,” said Rory Smith. “There was a short pre-season and City obviously had a shorter break than others because they were in the Champions League until the latter stages. Losing both of your main strikers is bad, the fact Aymeric Laporte isn’t there is bad, John Stones isn’t there which is bad, they’re about to sign Ruben Dias to bolster their defence.
“But the thing is – and this is the sort of thing that ends up with me not looking at Twitter for three days – I don’t think that’s an excuse for Manchester City. And I don’t think it’s an excuse for any of the monied elite. The privilege of having access to, in City’s case essentially unlimited transfer spending, and with Manchester United and Chelsea and Liverpool, they can all effectively buy whoever they want, in the context of what they might need.
“You can inure yourself against injury crises. It’s not Guardiola’s fault, but to see City so threadbare you do have to question the squad planning. You have to question Txiki Begiristain and how they’ve built that team. You have to question their recruitment. You have to question whether Guardiola is asking for the right things. That is the failing of a club.”
The City bench was stacked with young players, products of their very well-appointed academy, but they were young players with barely any first-team experience. Before Sunday the youngsters in question – Liam Delap, Zack Steffen, Tommy Doyle and Cole Palmer – had a total of six senior first-team appearances between them, and only 15 minutes of Premier League football, all belonging to Doyle.
“It’s fantastic having a brilliant academy,” said Matt Davies-Adams, “but the bench was littered with these young players and they’re throwing them in blind. They haven’t assimilated them into the team towards the back half of last season when you thought it would’ve been the ideal time to, with the league gone.
“It’s not as if they’ve got players who they can call on who they’ve even had ten Premier League games, with a reasonable amount of experience coming into a game like this.”
Another issue is a lack of leaders, according to Daniel Storey.
“It sounds like quite an old-school thing to say, but there aren’t many leaders in that City team. Raheem Sterling was one of the most senior players playing today. He’s many things, and nearly all of them very good, but he’s not really a ‘leader’ in that sense.
“Vincent Kompany was oft-criticised and often fairly, but he was at least a leader. Fernandinho is probably that figure, but he’s a quiet authority.”
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