Tottenham Hotspur became the first team this season to beat Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, as a 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane on Sunday brought an end to the visitors’ 11-game unbeaten run. For the Catalan coach, a couple of aspects would have disappointed him more than the defeat in itself, to Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
Manchester City, up until Sunday evening, had done a lot of aspects right and thoroughly deserved their 11-game unbeaten run. Going into the clash against Spurs, City were the team to beat, even though Spurs had not been beaten in the Premier League 2016-17 either. The build-up to this game did not eclipse the brouhaha we witnessed ahead of the 172nd Manchester Derby, yet there was plenty of excitement for the right reasons: Guardiola and Pochettino’s philosophies and the attacking riches possessed by both these teams being the primary of the lot.
Spurs came out of the blocks quickly and straight from kick-off, they constructed a highly meaningful attacking move. Manchester City must have known that they were in for a tough evening against a side who had powerful, physical players in central midfield and defence, fleet-footed full-backs, technical players in the middle-third, and an in-form forward in Heung-Min Son to lead the attack.
Guardiola, for reasons we do not know, went in with a defensive side, by saying which we do not mean to disrespect Fernando Reges and Jesus Navas—who came in place of Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin de Bruyne, respectively, from the team which beat Swansea City 1-3 on the previous weekend. And, the players who have led the way so far this season, could not bring their A-games to the fore either. Consequently, Manchester City looked a disjointed team which we were so accustomed to seeing last season, under Manuel Pellegrini.
On that note, a related article you must read:
Although you can say that a below par performance was due from Manchester City, which aspects about Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Spurs would have disappointed Guardiola?
Let us find out!
Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Manchester City – Guardiola’s Concerns
In my opinion, Sunday’s defeat to Spurs was the culmination of what had been three poor defensive displays from Manchester City in three consecutive fixtures: Swansea City (away), Celtic (away) and Spurs (away).
The Swans were the first team this season to take City head on and not be intimidated by what Guardiola’s men had done in the eight games before playing them, excluding the EFL Cup clash on the Wednesday before the league meeting.
On a fundamental level,
Manchester City came out of the league meeting with Swansea as the better side, winning 1-3, creating 14 to Swansea’s 10 chances over the course of the 90′, completing 85% of their passes to Swansea’s 78%, and getting 18 shots away to Swansea’s 13. Swansea’s 47% possession, though, has been the highest by any team against Guardiola’s Manchester City so far this season. And, even if you think possession statistics are immaterial, Swansea posed a far bigger challenge than they were expected to against the 2013-14 English champions and would certainly have been dejected by losing 1-3, with their dejection stemming from how well they had played.
Then came Celtic on matchday two of the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League. At Celtic Park too, the hosts made an ebullient beginning and became the first team to score first in a meeting against Manchester City across all competitions this season. Manchester City might have enjoyed 56% possession against Brendan Rodgers’ men, but almost every Celtic attack caused problems for the Manchester City rearguard, which could not cope with the pace and trickery of Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair, in particular. Manchester City drew 3-3 at a tough venue for any visiting team and could take heart from the fact that they came from behind not once, not even twice but thrice to rescue a point.
Spurs ran the City rearguard ragged all game on Sunday and proved too hot to handle for Guardiola’s Manchester City, who never really recovered from Aleksandar Kolarov’s own-goal. They were blunt going forward but more menacingly, every Spurs attack looked like it could culminate with Claudio Bravo, one of the two standout Manchester City players on Sunday along with John Stones, picking the ball out of his net. Tottenham were that good, but also made to look so by a poor Manchester City defence!
The ease with which Tottenham were able play ‘through’ Manchester City’s midfield and in behind the defence, must have worried Guardiola. Nicolas Otamendi’s two-footed tackle on Dele Alli just on the edge of the City box, was borne out of frustration from Spurs’ dominance as much as the sluggishness in spotting danger and getting into good defensive positions on the part of Manchester City’s midfielders and defenders.
Casting our minds back to last season, Manchester City’s defence just could not cope with fast players and teams which moved the ball swiftly. Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Leicester City, and even Southampton scored plenty of goals in their meetings with City last season and the Manchester City defence was absolutely clueless. Their attack was very blunt as well and Pellegrini’s City, for the first time in almost three years, gave the impression that they could not score goals against good Premiership teams.
Guardiola has to ensure that the Manchester City defence does not come apart in big games and against teams with similar qualities as Tottenham. Mind you, Sunday’s performance could prove to be a blip, but if I am Guardiola, I will not just be focussing on what went wrong against Spurs on Sunday but also consider the defensive problems Swansea and Celtic caused in the two games prior to Sunday’s.
In addition to their calamitous defensive display, which was the major talking point of Sunday’s league meeting with Spurs, Manchester City did not offer a lot going forward. The likes of Fernandinho, Sergio Aguero, and Raheem Sterling had forgettable games and David Silva was the only one who provided an attacking threat, creating four goal-scoring chances and completing 84% of his passes. De Bruyne’s absence might have just been a coincidence, but for periods on Sunday evening, Manchester City’s supporters might well have thought that their team was missing the Belgian playmaker and they would not have been wrong to think so.
We are still at an embryonic phase of the 2016-17 season and after a near two-month dominance, Guardiola’s Manchester City probably needed this loss of form to reinvent themselves and come back strongly after this international break. City’s rearguard struggled with Spurs’ intricate passing and movement, in particular, but in their last three games, Manchester City’s defence has also shown vulnerability against long balls that have been played in behind for the likes of Dembele, Son and Fernando Llorente to latch on to. Couple the defensive weakness with a lack of attacking fluency and a disappointed Guardiola has his work cut out.