Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have looked slick and ebullient during the first month of their 2016/17 campaign, but have plenty of scope for improvement—here’s why!
Before Manchester City opened their Premier League campaign against Sunderland and Pep Guardiola took charge of his first official game as Manchester City manager, plenty of talks were about City potentially taking a few months to get accustomed to Guardiola’s tactics and the style of football favoured by the Catalan manager. Guardiola himself, in his first press conference as Manchester City manager, admitted that he and his new team will “need time” to get used to working with each other and thinking alike.
However, City’s five games so far have been in stark contrast to any of those pre-season expectations: Manchester City players seem to have imbibed Guardiola’s philosophy quite well and quickly and more importantly, appear committed to making the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager’s tactics work in the Premier League—an aspect deemed far-fetched by many.
The quality of Manchester City’s football has been the most striking aspect. They have averaged 62.4% possession in their five fixtures so far, indicating to you their growing ability to not only keep the ball well but also regain possession soon after they relinquish the same. In addition, Guardiola’s Manchester City have created 38 chances in the Premier League and scored the most number of goals (nine) as well, even though the 2016/17 Premier League season is still in its embryonic stages.
Looking at the scorelines, barring maybe the Sunderland game on the opening day of the season (2-1), you might feel that the likes of Stoke City, West Ham United and Steaua Bucuresti have not tested City enough and made life easier for Guardiola’s men. But, in truth, the Black Cats, the Potters, the Hammers, and Steaua struggled to deal with the tempo at which Manchester City played in their respective meetings with the Etihad outfit. Again, the quality of Manchester City’s football has been so good that their opponents, who are not bad teams by any means, were overwhelmed and could not have the kind of impact—talking about Stoke and West Ham, two teams who won their respective first-leg fixtures against Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City last season—they would have hoped to.
Despite the many positives for Manchester City during the month of August, we cannot help but feel that they have plenty of scope for improvement, ahead of the 172nd Manchester Derby on September 10th, 2016, the day on which Premier League action resumes after the first international break of the ongoing season. Which are the areas Guardiola’s Manchester City need to improve on if they want to become a more solid outfit? Continue reading.
Guardiola’s Manchester City Have Scope for Improvement
Going forward, Manchester City have been a treat to watch and have played like a well-oiled unit, despite having had to adapt to a fresh philosophy which emphasises on high intensity in and out of possession and controlling the game right from the word go. But, on a fundamental level, City will be disappointed to have not scored more goals, especially in the Premier League, a competition which has seen them create 38 chances over three games and more importantly, have a whopping 46 attempts on goal. A conversion rate of less than 20% must be highly unsatisfactory for Guardiola and his troops and contrary to popular belief, I think Sergio Aguero’s impact has been very minimal in the three Premier League games so far.
Two of his three goals have come from the spot and the Argentine, by his own high standards, will be disappointed with his meagre tally of three goals from ’15’ goal attempts. We must, however, take into account that Nolito, Raheem Sterling, David Silva, and Kevin de Bruyne have made tremendous contributions in an attacking sense and therefore, City have not relied heavily on Aguero, as has been the norm for a few seasons now. But, because the Argentine is the focal point of City’s attack, the Blues’ ability to polish teams off and seize the initiative by scoring an early goal or two in crucial games, will depend largely on how incisive and ruthless Aguero is. With almost every player involved in the build-up to a goal and in every one of City’s attacks, Aguero might feel some of the goal-scoring pressure taken off his shoulders, nonetheless, if Guardiola’s Manchester City want to be clinical, they need Aguero to improve his conversion rate in front of goal and also do more with the ball when City have possession.
City’s two cleansheets so far this season have come in the UEFA Champions League, as they beat Steaua Bucharest 6-0 on aggregate in the playoff round. However, their defence, with the addition of John Stones to it, has been bullied and found wanting in the Premier League. All three goals conceded by Guardiola’s Manchester City could have been avoided, as Bacary Sagna was at fault for Jermaine Defoe’s clinical finish to equalise for Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium on the opening day of the 2016/17 Premier League and against the Hammers last night, Arthur Masuaku was allowed time and space—by Pablo Zabaleta—to deliver a delicious cross for Michail Antonio to head home and set a few alarm bells ringing in the City camp. The concession of a cheap penalty to Stoke could have been avoided too, if Sterling had done the basics right.
Under Pellegrini, City always had the propensity to concede cheap goals and Guardiola has not yet found a solution to what is proving to be a huge problem for the 2013/14 English champions. More than the lack of cleansheets, what must be worrying Guardiola is the overwhelming tendency for his team to concede at any time during a game and then invite pressure onto themselves. Guardiola’s Manchester City have to tighten up at the back if they want to win the big Premier League games, unlike last season, and beat the likes of Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League.
Another area where City have plenty of scope for improvement is their ability to maintain their intensity for the full 90 minutes and not go off the boil after short spells of being on top. In each one of their Premier League outings so far, City have not made the most of the good starts and tended to drop off at critical junctures which had them in a spot of bother against Sunderland, Stoke and even Slaven Bilic’s men, who mounted a terrific comeback in the second 45′ after a brilliant first-half showing from Guardiola’s Manchester City.
This is where Guardiola probably has to be a little flexible and not be over insistent on the high-intensity passing football when in possession and offensive pressing when out of possession. Notwithstanding Guardiola’s penchant for attractive football to satisfy the fans who come to the stadium to watch Manchester City play, the former Barcelona player and manager has to find the balance between defence and attack once his team take an early lead or play as well as they did in the first half against the East London side yesterday. This is another aspect which has not cost Guardiola’s Manchester City anything in the Premier League so far, but one they will have to get better at, with the Manchester Derby coming up and from the remainder of this season’s perspective.
Guardiola will be satisfied with how August has panned out for him and his new team: Manchester City had to negotiate a potential banana skin in the form of Steaua Bucharest, to progress to the group stage of the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League and in Stoke and West Ham, at least, they had to overcome a couple of stiff Premier League tests. Manchester City will have gained plenty of confidence from winning four of their five games with great aplomb. But, in order to become a well-equipped side, Guardiola’s Manchester City need Aguero to be more incisive than he has been, for large parts, during the first month of this campaign, become defensively solid and cut down on the fundamental errors and also find a way to maintain their intensity in and out of possession for the full 90′.