Has Pep bitten off more than he can chew at Manchester City?

Pep Guardiola

MANCHESTER City got their season off to a brilliant start under new manager Pep Guardiola, winning their first 10 games and scoring 30 goals in the process, and it began to look like the Spaniard and the Blues were a match made in heaven as bookmakers up and down the country made them favourites to win the league this year.

However teething problems began to show in the side and an ever-changing starting 11 saw Guardiola go without a win in six games across all competitions – the worst run of his managerial career.

The last two Premier League games have seen Guardiola’s side concede three or more goals in consecutive league games for the first time in his career; in fact it was only the third time one of his sides had conceded four goals ever, and they now sit seven points behind leaders Chelsea after sitting in first at the start of November.

In a concerning statistic for the new manager, only Crystal Palace, Hull and Sunderland have kept fewer clean sheets than Manchester City all season.

So where is it going wrong at the Etihad?

Philosophy?

Manchester United fans will know all too well about having a manager who imposes and talks about his ‘philosophy’ regularly, and City may well be hearing a lot of this too, as Guardiola goes about putting his stamp on the Blues.

Famously, wherever he has managed, it’s almost a certainty that trophies follow. In the eight seasons he has been a manager, he has finished first seven times. The only exception came in the 2011-12 season, his last at Barcelona, when they finished second behind rivals Real Madrid.

His sides are usually easy to identify, they are easy to watch and rely heavily on the tiki-taka style of play. Usually they are notoriously difficult to play against as they rely on high pressing and a high back line, with his defenders bringing the ball out from the back and starting the team’s attack off.

At City, it could be argued that he simply does not have the players to fit in with his system. The protector of his back four for the game at Leicester was Fernando, a player that is good but not quite the calibre of Lahm or Busquets, the players he had in the same role at Bayern Munich or Barcelona.

The only real ball-playing defender he has at the Etihad is summer signing John Stones, but he frequently gets caught on the ball or makes a mistake, as was the case again this weekend at Leicester.

Guardiola was settled on a style and team at both his previous clubs, whereas in Manchester he has made 50 changes already this season — a figure which is higher than any other club in the league — and last week suggested he should be allowed to make six substitutions a game.

Perhaps it is a case of the squad needing more time to adapt to Guardiola’s style.

Players?

At both Bayern Munich and Barcelona, the squads were both packed full of world class talent with players from both sides frequently in FIFA Team of the Year or in contention for the Ballon d’Or.

At City, it could be argued that Aguero and De Bruyne are maybe the only world class talent he has to work with, whereas neither of the two players are at the right end of the pitch to help the defence out.

City have had money to spend in recent years, and between the recent signings of Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala and John Stones, they have spent roughly £120m on three central defenders alone in an attempt to get suitable cover for injury-prone captain, Vincent Kompany.

The side has yet to see a settled back three or four all season and £42m signing Mangala has since been loaned out to La Liga outfit Valencia.

This weekend was the first time Manchester City have conceded twice in the opening five minutes of a game since October 2006 against Wigan, as they were 2-0 down after just 255 seconds.

There was some very questionable defending for Jamie Vardy’s second and third goal this weekend, with Bravo being caught in no man’s land for the England striker’s second goal, and John Stones virtually gifting him his hat-trick.

But these sort of scenes have not been an exception, Bravo has looked shaky at best since his debut at Old Trafford in September and Stones has been the subject of constant analysis from pundits.

Certainly, at 15 games in to a season it is still too early to say this side are not capable of winning the league and they have shown promising signs, most notably beating Barcelona 3-1 at home.

However, unless the defence tightens up it is going to be a challenge to improve on last season’s second place finish.

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