Football has seen some spectacular collapses in form in the past. Remember when Leicester City went from being surprise Premier League champions one season to relegation candidates the next?
But when a team with the class and track record of Manchester City fail to deliver, some serious questions need to be asked. In what is undoubtedly the worst start to a season under Pep Guardiola, there are plenty of people looking for answers to explain just how they can be languishing mid-table as we head towards the New Year.
The impact on the Club
When any team fails to live up to expectations, it’s going to have some serious ramifications. We’ve seen plenty of instances where a losing streak or, at least, a not winning one takes hold and is hard to escape from.
This means that the players soon become demoralized and team spirit evaporates, and so the situation becomes gradually worse. It also means that all faith is lost in the manager, leading to one of those early departures that so often follow the board saying that they have total faith in him. Manchester City fans will undoubtedly be concerned to see their Premier League odds rising, as Liverpool go from strength to strength.
Some reasons for the poor form
In the topflight of English football, the pressure has steadily mounted on teams to fit as many matches as possible into the season. If they’re also included in a European competition this can only increase the pressure, with the added complication of mid-week fixtures in other countries to be factored in. Between the start of the season in September and the New Year, there will have been a minimum of two games per week for City, a heavy workload even for a squad that has considerable depth to it.
So the fact that the strange year in which we find ourself has meant that there was only a short gap between concluding last season and starting this one has certainly taken its toll.
Reportedly, players have been too unfit or exhausted to secure regular first team places. The way that Kyle Walker had to be substituted in the 1-1 draw with West Ham because he was too tired to continue tells its own story.
But, at its simplest, the fact that City have failed to score enough goals has led to the current situation. One only has to look at the stats to see that this season’s performance has been lacking in this department. Over the 2019-20 season they averaged 2.7 goals per game. This season so far, it’s running at 1.5. A few factors have been blamed for this, including the hole left by the departure of David Silver for Real Sociedad. Then there are the injuries to Aguero and Gabriel Jesus.
This has all added to the pressure on Kevin de Bruyne, especially in light of the underperforming Raheem Sterling.
A few suggestions
The return of the recovered Aguero is certainly good news for Guardiola but this, alone, probably won’t bring about the turnaround needed. However, there are a few things that could well make the difference.
Make more substitutions
In the past, Guardiola has been a big advocate of using as many substitutions as possible. But he seems to have been strangely reluctant this season only twice making all the ones available. But with the team getting so many draws, a strategic switch in the final minutes could well produce those much-needed winners.
Get a partner for de Bruyne
City have found it increasingly hard to break down defences, even against moderate oppositions. Possibly, it’s been the lack of proper midfield support for Kevin de Bruyne that hasn’t helped. So far, Bernardo hasn’t really seemed up to the task but two likely candidates worth giving a proper run out to are Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden. Either could make all the difference.
Protect the most important players
It’s true that injuries are inevitable, but they can be minimised by careful rotation. In the past Aguero has been brought back from a lay-off and used so intensively that he’s picked up another knock. But by rotating him and Jesus it will greatly increase both their chances of avoiding injury, as well as ensuring both players can give of their best before they tire.
Do more work on set pieces
Aymeric Laporte, Ruben Dias and Rodri are all great headers of the ball but, all too often, corners and other dead ball opportunities fail to find them. So by spending some more time in training for these golden opportunities, it could be that the scoring rate could dramatically improve.
Of course, no-one’s denying that it is going to be a struggle to turn things round now – but nothing’s insurmountable. So, by instituting all these measures, and with a little luck as well, it could turn out well for City. And with the form they’ve shown in the Champions League so far it would even be foolish to write off the chance of some silverware by the end of the season.