Talking Point: Majestic Manchester City's solid defence justifying lavish spending
While Manchester City's attackers attract praise, spare a thought for their defence, which has enjoyed an even greater improvement.
After watching Manchester City finish a relatively underwhelming season third in the Premier League last season, few were surprised to see Pep Guardiola take a no-nonsense approach to their transfer dealings.
His defensive department was reviewed with the most brutality, with a host of players departing.
Fernando, Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta, Willy Caballero, Joe Hart and Bacary Sagna were all moved on in one way or another, freeing up not only space in the squad, but also on their huge wage budget.
In came Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker, Danilo and Ederson as defensive reinforcements to the tune of a reported £159million and so far Guardiola's dealings appear to have had the desired impact, with City – five points clear at the top of the table – looking almost unrecognisable at the back.
There was never any doubt about City's ability in attack and, although their forwards have taken much of the praise for their scintillating start to the new season, their defence has given them an immensely solid platform to build on, as Opta data can evidence…
5 - Man City have scored 5+ goals in 6 PL games in 2017 – only Chelsea (7 in '10) netted 5+ goals in more PL games in a calendar year. High. pic.twitter.com/03P5itDp3V— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 21, 2017
SOLID CITY STOPPING SHOTS
City's record of conceding 39 goals in the league last term was by no means alarming, particularly considering only three teams let in less, but there was little doubt that in order to challenge for the title again, they were going to have to tighten things up.
They have certainly succeeded so far, with City generally looking significantly more solid right through the team.
That is shown by the fact they have faced a total of 56 shots (including blocked shots), the fewest in the league by 21.
They have also only had to contend with only 14 shots on target, seven fewer than the next shrewdest – Tottenham. By comparison, Manchester United have allowed almost twice as many as City, with 26.
What makes this solidity even more impressive is the fact it is yet to have a negative impact on them offensively, with City incredibly scoring 32 in just nine matches.
BRAVO! EXCELLENT EDERSON GETTING PLAUDITS
While City's defence in general rarely played a starring role over the previous two seasons, one specific position which has seemed to plague them has been the goalkeeper.
Joe Hart proved capable for several years, but his decline coupled with Guardiola's desire a ball-playing goalkeeper ultimately led to him being dropped.
Claudio Bravo failed to replace the England international particularly well, however, with the Chilean's shot-stopping ability regularly called into question, even if he was good on the ball.
16 - Claudio Bravo has conceded from 16 of the last 24 shots on target he has faced in the Premier League. Update.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 21, 2017
Ederson's arrival from Benfica this year meant Bravo was doomed to lose his spot and, while he may have looked a little shaky early on, he has since looked solid, as evidenced by his 73.3 per cent save percentage – the fifth best among the goalkeepers to have played at least five games.
The Brazilian has also kept five clean sheets in the Premier League this term, behind only David de Gea (7).
In Ederson, Guardiola looks to have secured himself a fine long-term option.
WEAKNESS ADDRESSED, REWARDS REAPED
City cannot claim to possess the very best defence in the league at the moment, as they are tied with United on just four goals conceded, but their improvement is far more noticeable.
United were already a fairly solid side defensively last term, with their record of 29 goals conceded bettered only by Tottenham.
By contrast, City let in 39, meaning they were conceding 1.02 goals per game on average.
This season, however, having allowed just four goals in in nine matches, their average has been cut well down to 0.44 each match.
Should they manage to maintain that average, they will concede just 17 goals across the course of the season.
While that is perhaps an unlikely target given the unpredictable nature of injuries and football matches, it highlights a huge improvement so far on their defensive solidity from last term.