In a season in which Manchester City’s back four has been criticised more than ever under Pep Guardiola, it was fitting that Liverpool’s Premier League triumph was rubber stamped courtesy of a calamitous defensive performance.
Prior to the 2019/2020 campaign getting underway, the Cityzens were viewed as an infallible footballing machine. They seem anything but now.
All but one of the 90min editors – and he probably only did it to be edgy to be honest – tipped City to win the title at the canter and similar sentiments were echoed by many other ‘expert’ outlets in the summer.
In hindsight, it seems ridiculous that nobody saw City’s defensive troubles coming. They failed to replace Vincent Kompany, who left for Anderlecht, and the struggles of Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones began long before.
Guardiola deserves some criticism for this.
While there can be no denying that summer recruit Rodri will be a fine heir to Fernandinho’s defensive midfield throne, blitzing close to £100m (with the loss of Danilo factored in) on Angelino and Joao Cancelo was borderline arrogance from the club.
Almost inevitably, neither player has made an impact and the latter was even farmed out on loan to RB Leipzig in January.
These funds would clearly have been better spent on strengthening at centre-back and City’s shortfall in this area was grimly exposed when Aymeric Laporte was ruled out for an extended period in September with a knee injury.
In fact, the very game after the Spaniard’s injury, City fell to a horrendous 3-2 defeat against Norwich City – a team who have subsequently been revealed to be very bad at football.
Against the Canaries, Stones and Otamendi had their worst ever performances in a City shirt. Guardiola’s side were torn apart time after time on the counter, in a manner not too dissimilar to how Chelsea shredded them at times. Or how Wolves did back in November and December. Or even how Manchester United – who once seemed so far behind their city rivals – did over Christmas.
If you’re sensing a theme here, that’s because there very much is one.
On too many occasions this season, City’s defence has let them down in big games.
Leicester, Sheffield United and most painfully, the Red Devils, have all conceded less goals than City this season and their defensive issues again reared their ugly head at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.
For the Blues’ opening goal, the home side were able to break through the City lines like a hot knife through butter. In case it wasn’t easy enough for Christian Pulisic to put the hosts in the lead, Benjamin Mendy made sure to throw in an embarrassing individual error, indicative of the Frenchman’s troubled season.
Chelsea’s second goal wasn’t much bette, either. It might seem like lazy analysis but a defensive leader like Kompany would simply not have allowed the ball to pinball around the box like that for the length of time that it did.
City’s defensive struggles have prevented them from exhibiting a proper title fight this season. It’s as simple as that.
Guardiola must address this as a matter of urgency if his side are to have any chance of closing the gap on Liverpool – who now look like the infallible footballing machine that City appeared to be at the start of the campaign.