The title fight in the English Premier League this season was one of the least competitive races in the modern history of the tournament. One could argue that Liverpool’s unbelievable run is the reason why the gap is so big and that’s a good point.
However, Manchester City achieved at least 98 points in back-to-back campaigns and on paper, should’ve been up there with the Reds.
The reigning champions are fighting with Leicester for second instead. They have recorded five defeats already and their record is far from what we are used to.
Where Do Manchester City’s Struggles Come from?
A quick look at the English Premier League table shows the main reason behind the club’s failure to compete. Manchester City has the strongest attack in England with 65 goals in 24 games. However, the team has only the fourth-best defense and has conceded 27 goals so far.
In comparison, the club allowed the same number of goals for the whole 2017-18 season and conceded only 23 times last year.
If you look at the Champions League, it’s not much different. Manchester City was in one of the weakest groups and finished first. However, the team only kept clean sheets in two of the matches from the competition.
Even the games against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup highlighted that the champions are vulnerable. They dominated both encounters and somehow were only 3-2 up at the end of the tie.
The main reason for City’s defensive struggles is a combination of back luck and Pep Guardiola’s decisions. When former skipper Vincent Company left the club in the summer, the Spanish manager had only three senior centre-backs in the squad.
He decided against buying another one and when his best player in this position Aymeric Laporte got injured for several months, Pep struggled to find a strong pairing at the back. He tried different options, but Manchester City kept conceding too many goals.
If you add Liverpool’s historic run, it was enough for City to lose the title very early in the season. And yet, the team is still alive in the UEFA Champions League and will be looking to win the biggest European tournament for the first time in its history.
Did Pep Guardiola Repeat the Same Mistake in January?
The problem is that I’m not sure if Manchester City has the defensive potential to go all the way in a knockout tournament against the best teams in Europe.
I expected of Pep Guardiola to go out and buy another central defender. Two days before the end of the transfer window, Manchester City hasn’t brought another player and there are no credible rumours that the club is looking to add someone.
That begs the question if Pep Guardiola is making the same mistake again. The manager might be counting on Aymeric Laporte who has returned to action but is it realistic to expect from him to be on the same level after months off the pitch?
The boss himself warned the fans that Laporte might struggle, so it seems that he is not counting on his return too much.
At the same time, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones are the only other senior centre-backs in the squad. Both have been far from reliable and the manager had to try other players like Rodri in the position.
That might work well against weaker opponents but the best teams in Europe will likely punish Manchester City.
Not to mention that a setback for Laporte or another injury could leave the club short in numbers.
Unless something changes in the next two days, I believe that Pep Guardiola ruined Manchester City’s chances of winning a big trophy this season twice. His refusal to buy another quality central defender is the reason why the reigning champions have failed to put Liverpool under any pressure.
Guardiola doubled down on that decision in January and that will likely cost Man City in the chance to fight for the Champions League. You need a stellar defense to win the trophy and the club is simply not there.
The League Cup and the FA Cup are the realistic targets, but that’s nowhere nearly enough for a team with so many resources.
One could defend Guardiola’s initial decision and there was certainly a level of bad luck involved. However, his stand in January looks indefensible to me and he will be solely responsible if the club fails to compete in the UCL, as I expect.