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“They are not creating enough opportunities.”
“They are missing David Silva, someone who can slow down the game and control the pace of the game.”
“They need more creativity in midfield. Kevin De Bruyne looks tired and is not up to the task.”
Manchester City have failed to reach the heights of previous campaigns and there has been much talk about their lack of goals this season.
While it was inevitable that City would lose the forefront provided by David Silva and Leroy Sané after their outings, what has happened only covers a problem that has been hiding from view since Pep Guardiola took over City in 2016.
In a period where City’s midfield has been criticized for allegedly not being creative enough, the forwards have thankfully avoided criticism. Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, while world class in their day, have been below average for much of the season.
In 13 league games this season, City drew five and lost two. Ties have been against West Ham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester United and most recently against West Brom. City’s forwards missed a host of golden opportunities in all of those games, but none of those games were tied because they weren’t powerful enough in the middle of the park.
Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden, when given the opportunities, did their best to complement De Bruyne and take some of the burden off the Belgian, and they deserve credit. They have been on the bright side during this period, consistently complying when asked.
So to losses.
Leicester’s 5-2 beating was a spectacle of defensive horror, but City seem to have put those problems behind them. This is where it gets interesting: the 2-0 loss at Tottenham. A masterclass by José Mourinho? Typical of Guardiola? We don’t have to put a label on it, but the City was summed up in a nutshell in North London that afternoon.
Limited, toothless and trash in front. Injuries have not been good for City, but that excuse cannot be bought when it comes to a team as blessed as City.
Sergio Agüero has been a huge mistake for Guardiola – his return to action will be welcome as the festive period begins, with team management as crucial as ever. Jesús is not anywhere near as reliable as Agüero and although Guardiola can get him out with the agenda of ‘he gives us so much outside the ball’, it is not enough. It is number nine and its main job is to find the bottom of the net. Jesus does not do it often enough.
He is one of the main reasons for De Bruyne’s frustrations, as he doesn’t seem to have that knowledge when asked to give up a chance. He is not ruthless or cold in the face of goal. But Jesus lets go because he is still young and apparently finding his feet in Manchester. Just don’t mention that he won two Premier Leagues and a ton of cups already.
Sterling and Mahrez are hard to judge – they can be incredibly good one game and incredibly frustrating the next. Although they have scored a few goals each this season, it is imperative that they raise the bar and be the best version of themselves that they can be. They have the best midfielder in the world putting the ball on a plate for them; Converting the opportunities they are given is not a scandalous demand.
Bernardo Silva has had a fairly eventless year, his only highlight being the last tribute to Liverpool during City’s honor guard to the champions in July. He’s shown positive signs lately, but Guardiola isn’t likely to think about it anytime soon.
He was supposed to be the natural successor to the namesake David, but instead remains a mere squad player for a team struggling to score goals.
But what about the gaffer? Guardiola may be accused of settling for draws in recent weeks, but the number of opportunities City fail to save is staggering. He went unnoticed during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 title-winning campaigns, but the sins of his past have finally been unearthed.
Do City need to refresh their staff if they are serious about challenging the title? Guardiola has confirmed that City will not bring players in the January window, so that’s out of the window.
This is Guardiola’s biggest managerial challenge. He has taught his team to pass, he has brought players and he has shown them what to expect. Now you just need to teach them to shoot.