Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City thrashed Arsenal by 4-1 in EFL Cup. It was one of those old ruthless demonstrations of Pep’s illustrious football. They dominated Arsenal and extended Arsenal’s misery without any remorse. After months Manchester City seemed like the team, they were two years ago. Buy why signs of worry linger?
Manchester City now sits at 8th position in the Premier League table with 23 points which is 8 points behind the unstoppable league leader Liverpool. Though City has a game in hand, they don’t look like the revered side they were two years back. Even last season they finished 2nd but they were staggering 18 points behind Liverpool. Something very uncharacteristic of Pep Guardiola’s team.
When Pep signed a new contract in November 2020 with Manchester City eyebrows were raised. He is one of those managers who burn intensely but relatively briefly. Before City, he was at Barcelona for 4 years and then 3 years at Bayern Munich. After his intense tenure at Barcelona and some extremely frustrating feud with arc rivals Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid, Pep was so burned out that he took a year off before joining coaching.
With his previous contract at Manchester City, it was supposed to end in the summer of 2021. The general assumption was he would move on from Manchester City and look for a challenge in a new league or a new country. Because City’s form was questionable from last year. Their distant 2nd finish in the league and a quarter-final exit in the Champions League against Lyon; was an indicator of fuel-burning up at Manchester City. In this season they were hammered 5-0 by Leicester and failed to win against Leeds and West Ham. Later Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham beat them quite easily and visibly exposed why Pep’s Manchester City is turning out to be a predictable team. These were the signs of a manager whose time was coming to a close at the club. But instead, he committed two more years till 2023 at the club which will keep him at Etihad for 7 years. This would make his longest tenure at any club. Questions are now being raised about his extension.
With Guardiola City thumped Premier League and won two consecutive titles (2017-18 and 2018-19), they were revered as one of the greatest Premier League side ever. In the 2017-18 and 2018-19 season City gathered an eye-catching 198 points totals. They were the best team in the country by miles. But in the 2019-20 season, they were nowhere near their best. They finished 2nd with an 18 point gap which could have been even more. But the main reason behind his extension was probably less pressure from management about the Champions League. Teams like Bayern, Barcelona demand heavily for the Champions League. But at City, he doesn't face that same level of intense pressure. Maybe that is why he was okay with giving a go at the Champions League again with City.
Over Dependency on Kevin De Bruyne
After David Silva and Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne was the player everyone looked up to in the dressing room. David and Kompany were the two big names on the team. They were a coherent force. But last season even with David silva, City started to show cracks, and this year they got just more visible. Without Sane, they lost the unpredictability factor. Sane was the player molded by Pep himself. He was supposed to be the nucleus of the new Manchester City team. But he left at the start of this season for Bayern Munich. Sterling and Jesus' upfront is still a partnership that hasn’t quite clicked to its full potential. With Aguero out injured and with a handful of days left in his career at the top, the dependability factor also crept into. Maharez is just starting to find his mojo at Manchester City but unfortunately, he is yet to seal his position. Bernardo Silva always had an on and off career at Manchester City. This year he hasn’t really clicked. So everything just cornered Kevin De Bruyne to be the main man for Manchester City. Players sort of look for him to connect to, lead the line, and stride forward in the box.
Fernandinho in his best years at Manchester City was indispensable. He didn’t even realize how good he was in between De Bruyne and David Silva. He is one of those players who flourished under Pep’s impeccable system. With Rodri Manchester City didn’t look like themselves. In big matches, he got dragged around the pitch which was not the case with Fernandinho.
The defense has been an issue for City from last season. Pep got all the players in defense he wanted. But they leaked goals like anything last season. This year he brought in Ruben Dias. The partnership of Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte started to show some promise. But Pep went on to say that John Stones and Ruben Dias are more compatible. Another defensive puzzle he got to solve. These are the players Pep wanted and he got. He must make sure they click at the biggest level because they are already some proven guns.
Previously it was such a dynamic front going forward for City. Now they are too predictable. Two inverted wingers Sterling and Maharez and occasionally Barnardo Silva along with Jesus in the striking position; City looks like a team without teeth. Obviously, Phill Foden and Ferran Torres were brought in to provide dynamism to City’s attack. But it seems like City changed the way they attack. Guardiola was very keen to take things dynamic and unpredictable. They were a relentless attacking force going forward but they have shifted their style a bit. But it can also be attributed to the opponents cracking their style of play. Like Leicester and Tottenham totally dismantled their style of play and staged a counter tactic to their play.
Guardiola’s team is all about the system. They don’t depend on individual. You often see their midfielders scoring for fun and the front three providing assists. It’s because they have a system of play that varies from opponent to opponent. Manchester City is one of the most heavily drilled and tactically astute sides. But from last season their style of play changed. Not in a good way but in a way you wouldn’t want to associate with Guardiola’s side. They are just too dependent on Kevin De Bruyne.
De Bruyne was arguably the best player last season. His performance against Real Madrid at the Champions League 2nd leg revitalized how good was he and how important he was to Manchester City. But as soon as they depended heavily on him they paid the price. They lost their next match to Lyon in the quarter Finals where De Bryune was neutralized. The attacking threats were minimized and the tempo was under Lyon’s pocket. Guardiola’s team doesn’t depend on individuals. Even when he had Messi at Barcelona, Guardiola’s didn’t make a team centered around Messi. Teams that depend too heavily on a player are bound to fail. Teams like Tottenham, Manchester United depend too much on Harry Kane or Bruno Fernandes. But if you look at Liverpool, they have a system. They don’t depend on individual. They have a system in place and even with a truckload of injuries, they are doing good. It’s the same with Leo Messi and Barcelona now. I think City have fallen into that category with over-dependency on De Bruyne. That will worry Guardiola slightly. Because this makes City one dimensional in attack. If De Bryune to miss a couple of months due to injury, which happened last season, City will suffer invariably.