Nine months ago, the blue side of Manchester was full of buzz and excitement. Manchester City were champions of England for the second season in a row, and everything seemed to be perfect. After all, the new Champions had recovered from trailing Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool to sealing a Premiership title with a point difference. The team had also become the first team to win a historic domestic treble after winning both the Carabao Cup and FA Cup.
It was clear Manchester City had become an unstoppable dominant force. Fast forward to the second month of 2020, the reigning Champions find themselves in unfamiliar territory, trailing perhaps the best English team of the Premier League era, Liverpool, by 22 points. The weekend’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspurs was the latest setback in a series of misfortunes that have befallen Pep Guardiola’s men and their season so far. We explore some of the factors behind Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City team’s struggles this season.
Failure to Replace Vincent Kompany
2019 saw the departure of long-serving captain, Vincent Kompany, from the club after a trophy-laden career with the Citizens. The Belgian wrote his name in Manchester City’s history books as the first Captain to lead the Citizens to a Premier League trophy in almost 50 years.
Throughout his time at the Club, the Belgian embodied the qualities of a leader and the heartbeat of a club, which came from obscurity to become a present-day global powerhouse in world football. He may have fallen behind the pecking order towards the end of his time in Manchester, but he always rose to the occasion whenever the team needed someone to step up which was evident in last season’s fixture against Leicester City at the Etihad where his long-range stunner ensured Manchester City was on course to win back-to-back Premiership titles.
His departure has created a big vacuum at the back, yet to be filled since Pep Guardiola failed to sign in both the summer and winter transfer windows.
A severe cruciate ligament injury to Aymeric Laporte earlier in the season coupled with inconsistencies from John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi led to the fielding of Fernandinho in an unfamiliar Center back role which he has failed to adapt. The Brazilian midfielder, who is perhaps one of the best midfielders in the Premier League has proven to be a liability in the Center back position so far. At the age of 34, the Brazilian is finding it challenging to keep up with the pace and high intensity of the Premier League. As a result, opposition attackers have found a way of getting past him quickly.
Aside from the center back positions, the full-backs have not been as dominant as they used to be. First choice right-back Kyle Walker has struggled a bit this season with his backup Joao Cancelo yet to cement a starting spot in the team. The left-back place is perhaps the second biggest concern for Pep as the likes of Benjamin Mendy, and Oleksandr Zinchenko has not been able to maintain consistency throughout the season. Third-choice left-back Angelino never looked assured in that position and has been shipped off to R.B Leipzig.
As a result of these deficiencies at the back, the team has conceded 29 goals from 25 games, six goals more than the total number of goals they conceded the whole of last season. The defensive problems highlight a big issue for Pep to solve quickly.
Lack of Hunger, Determination and Mental Fatigue
Just like Real Madrid last season, Pep’s side seems to have lost the mental fortitude and spark that made them an excellent team for the past two years. It is a common theme for a team that continues to win consecutive trophies to lose the strength and will to keep that great run going. Manchester City has become the latest victim.
Manchester City’s season has been marred by unexpected and embarrassing defeats to both “big” and “small” teams this season. These kinds of failures have been uncommon for Guardiola’s side in recent season. The team has surprisingly lost six games this season, which is one fewer than the total number of losses they suffered in their back-to-back title-winning seasons. Home and away defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers along with an early season shock at Carrow Road against Norwich has exposed the frailties in Pep’s style of play, which has seen the team struggle to impose themselves on their opponent in most of these crucial games.
The league break provides Pep Guardiola the perfect opportunity for him to reshuffle his pack and continue in their fight to cement a second-place spot on the league log. Their continuous involvement in the Carabao Cup, FA Cup, and UEFA Champions League will also give Pep’s team a potential good ending to what has been a frustrating season.