5 underlying problems for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City
Manchester United shocked the footballing world when they triumphed over bitter rivals Manchester City at the Etihad on Saturday. Goals from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in the first half capped a stunning performance by Ole Gunnar Solskajer's side who have now beaten both Jose Mourinho's Tottenham Hotspur and Pep Guardiola's City in the space of just three days. The Red Devils have lifted themselves up to fifth place in the Premier League table and if their current form continues, they could still challenge for a top-four finish this season.
Meanwhile, the 2-1 defeat sliced open a massive 14-point gap between Manchester City and league leaders Liverpool. Pep Guardiola, in his post-match interview, admitted that catching Liverpool is now "unrealistic" but he defended City's lack-lustre display on Saturday night, claiming that he was "more than happy with the performance".
The English champions have already lost four times this term, as many times as they did in the whole of last season. As a result, retaining the title seems almost like an impossibility. Some have resorted to blame Guardiola's team selections, some have attacked the central defenders and some have dug into deeper issues of motivation and desire.
The domestic treble-holders have been absolutely unplayable in the past couple of seasons and this campaign's sudden downfall was almost unpredictable. Manchester City's next three Premier League games before the end of the year are away to Arsenal, at home to Leicester, away to Wolves and finally at home to Sheffield, none of which are straight-forward wins on-paper. The champions have to now forget about winning the title and begin to make plans on how they can get back on track this season. This article, therefore, focuses on the five underlying problems at Manchester City right now.
#5 Lack of motivation
Manchester City have broken all sorts of Premier League records in their previous two campaigns, winning the two titles with a combined 198 points. They have also won the Carabao Cup twice and the FA Cup in the process making them arguably one of the greatest teams in English footballing history.
This season was supposed to be more of the same but Saturday’s defeat to Manchester United has somewhat put Pep Guardiola’s side in a mini mid-season crisis. The champions have already dropped 20 points this season, as much as they did in the whole of last season. Whilst the defeat at Anfield was not largely surprising, the losses to Norwich and Wolves and the recent draw at Newcastle have been significant eye-catchers.
City haven’t been atrocious but there seems to be a certain lack of intensity in their game this season. Sure, they have shown how ruthless they are in the 8-0 thrashing of Watford and also shown their metal in the 2-1 comeback win against Southampton. However, there is a clear lack of motivation among the players, which could be seen even yesterday against United.
The defense looked callous and leaky, the midfielders lethargic and laborious and the attack non-existent. And this has been the case for several other games this season. Guardiola’s footballing philosophy has made City one of the most watchable teams in Europe with their slick play and possession-based football. However, this season, City have unusually resorted to putting in crosses with little to no effect.
Apart from Otamendi’s header against United, City have also been largely wasteful from corners. Meanwhile, their possession rates have also dipped which has resulted in them not being able to dominate games as much as they used to. Many would argue that VAR has also played its part in increasing Manchester City’s woes this season but if Guardiola’s side can find their feet again, they might still be able to turn this season around.