After the historic treble… Manchester City, where to?
It was not at all expected that Manchester City, winner of the historic treble last season, would suffer like this in early December, to the point that many are talking about the Spanish coach, Pep Guardiola, finding it difficult to choose the right players in midfield in the season. Every match. For those who have always praised Guardiola as the pioneer of the school of possession and short passing, it is very strange that the team has reached this juncture after failing to win four consecutive Premier League matches – and suffering three consecutive defeats in domestic matches earlier in the year. season.
Guardiola experimented with John Stones, Rico Luis, Kalvin Phillips, Bernardo Silva, Manuel Akanji, Matthews Nunez, and Mateo Kovacic in the midfield, in order to reach the appropriate combination that would enable him to continue achieving victories. The recent injuries (Kovacic and Nunez) may have been a factor influencing the decline in the team’s results in this way, but considering the distinguished players included in the team, it can be said that Guardiola has failed to optimally exploit the potential available to his players recently. During the draw with Chelsea with four goals for each team, the draw with Liverpool with one goal for each team, the draw with Tottenham with three goals for each team, and then the loss on Wednesday against Aston Villa with an unanswered goal, Guardiola’s plan, which is supposed to depend on accuracy in possession and perfect passes, failed. Calmness, composure, and quick thinking.
Going back to late September and early October, we find that the team suffered in the same way in the matches they lost to Newcastle in the League Cup, Wolverhampton and Arsenal in the league. In these matches, and against Aston Villa last Wednesday, there is a glaringly clear common denominator, which is the absence of Rodri, who did not participate in the four matches due to suspension. The Spanish player can be described as “the embodiment of Guardiola on the field,” so to speak. This player, who plays as a fulcrum, has keen vision that enables him to see multiple images on the field before passing the ball in a way that makes the opposing team’s players move out of their original positions and helps his teammates. Creating a great threat to competitors’ goals.
Rodri’s absence has led to a decline in Manchester City’s results, and thus intensified the competition for the Premier League title this season. Now, Manchester City occupies fourth place in the table, the last qualifying position for the Champions League, six points behind leaders Arsenal. But it is very strange that Guardiola finds himself at a loss regarding choosing who will play in midfield, given his brilliant career as a midfielder, and being a manager who achieved many exceptional successes over 15 years during which he relied on players who could “understand their tasks.” Defensive and offensive,” as he described it when he was technical director of Bayern Munich.
But when we look at his team’s starting lineup against Aston Villa, we will find that he played Stones instead of Rodri, so Stones, who is 29 years old, was not required to play as a defender and advance deep into the field to provide the necessary offensive support to his teammates, but he was required to do so. To play a focal point that controls the reins in the midfield. But Stones did not succeed in this role. At the same time, Guardiola put three midfielders on the bench before using two of them in Rodri’s absence:
Kovacic (this is only the second match since his return from injury), Nunez (the first after injury), and Phillips – knowing that it was Guardiola himself who signed these three players. Manchester City signed Kovacic and Nunez last summer; One of them is to replace Ilkay Gundogan, who left for Barcelona, and the other, apparently, to replace Phillips, whom the club had signed 12 months ago and whom the Spanish coach does not trust. As for Bernardo Silva, whom Guardiola had previously relied on in midfield, he participated in the starting lineup against Aston Villa, but on the right side.
Therefore, it is clear that Guardiola is suffering from some confusion, so to speak. Leon Bailey’s winning goal did not come in the usual way of scoring goals against Manchester City: on the counter-attack. But instead, the Villa winger received the ball without any pressure, and he ran and entered the Manchester City penalty area and turned amid the opposing team’s defenses, and Josko Gvardiol failed to stop him, and shot the ball into the goal. Rodri was a huge help in such situations, but Stones did little.
The team suffered similar confusion in the match they lost to Wolverhampton last September, a match in which Nunez and Kovacic participated in the starting lineup before being substituted in the 45th and 65th minutes, respectively, and also against Arsenal the following week, when Guardiola adopted There were three midfield players: Silva, Kovacic and Lewis, before Kovacic and Lewis were replaced midway through the second half. All this indicates that Guardiola must ask Rodri to be careful not to receive cards so as not to be suspended and the team suffers again!
Losing six points in the matches against Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham can be described as less worrying, as Liverpool, led by German coach Jurgen Klopp, is a strong contender for the title, and therefore a draw with them by one goal for each team is not considered shameful. Guardiola was forced to field Akanji, a relative novice in the midfield, alongside Rodri against Chelsea and Tottenham due to injuries to Kovacic and Nunez, and Guardiola’s lack of confidence in Phillips.
But the failure to win in four consecutive league matches is the longest such period under Guardiola’s leadership since March 2017, and quick solutions must be found for this. Despite all this, no one can exclude Manchester City from competing for the league title in order to achieve an unprecedented historical achievement by winning the title four times in a row. As Klopp says, excluding the 52-year-old genius coach and his wonderful team from the competition would be the biggest “joke” in the history of football, especially since Guardiola is supposed to soon restore the services of his Belgian star, Kevin De Bruyne, who has been absent from matches for a long time due to… injury.
However, this is certainly an interesting moment for the man who said when he was in charge of Bayern Munich: “I would like to have a thousand midfielders in my team, because I think midfielders are intelligent and understand the game well.” Moreover, Guardiola understands his players and the players of rival teams very well. The Spanish coach says: “My job is to find some way to come back from difficult situations, because we were together over many years during which we were able to find some way to play matches – sometimes well, sometimes badly, but we always found a way to do it.” So – and now we’re struggling. “We have to change the dynamic.” In the end, we shouldn’t be at all surprised to see Manchester City become an irresistible team once again!
* The Guardian service
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