Back to Back: Manchester City’s Multiple Meetings

On the day of the UEFA Champions League Quarter final draw, I sat at my desk at work glancing over at a colleague’s phone waiting to see who Manchester City would draw. Just my luck as the ball was chosen, so was I to go into a meeting. But you can be certain it was as soon as I was able to let everyone know “I told ‘ya so!”

Sometimes you just get a feeling you know who’s going to get who. Knowing that City had both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in their calendar already this month, those were my top two picks.

I couldn’t bear the thought of having to sit through three derby matches in the space of two weeks, so Spurs was my City Xtra tweet my prediction.

With the Blues still competing on three fronts, it seemed like they’d have to really slug it out through three matches against the same opposition in hopes of still being in with a chance of the quadruple. Having to play against the same team three times (with two in a row) in that short a space of time just felt like it would be a bridge too far. Playing opposition this often means they get to know you so much better, especially teams with world renowned managers and players.

That got me thinking though; would it be that tough a fight? Tottenham aren’t in great form and there’s always the chance of them ‘Spursing’ it up. Just ask the fans in the Kop as they watched in virtual slow motion as Spurs deflected the ball into their own net to lose at Anfield.

Playing them at any other time you would bet on City to come out on top. So I took a look back at some recent seasons to see if playing a big team multiple times in quick succession had any major effect on the game where it otherwise might not have…

Manchester City vs Chelsea – February 2019

You only have to look back at this season for one example to come to mind. Although these games were played fifteen days apart, the fact that these teams would be playing each other twice in the same month seemed to dominate the conversation in football at the time.

February 10th 2019: Manchester City 6-0 Chelsea

The scoreboard shows the final score of 6-0 at the end of the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on February 10, 2019. – Manchester City won the match 6-0. (Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)

The first match at the Etihad looked like it might be competitive… for all of about five minutes. City proceeded to blow Chelsea away, easily playing in balls past their defence, and getting shots off unchallenged from long range.

City were rightly lauded, but it felt like such a devastating result could have been avoided from a Chelsea perspective if the players weren’t being weighed down by ‘Sarri-ball’. This has been a huge criticism of Chelsea this season and this result gave the people who were looking for an excuse to get at Sarri exactly that. And it’s difficult to deny that this result had a direct consequence on the next meeting.

February 25th 2019: Chelsea 0-0 Manchester City (3-4 penalties)

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 24: Chelsea players look on during the penalty shoot out in the Carabao Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on February 24, 2019 in London, England. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Chelsea changed tactics for this game and put up much more of a fight. They took lessons from the six nil thrashing and were far more conservative and defensively minded than people expected them to be.

While City won on penalties, Chelsea did themselves a lot of credit and even though still under pressure, the fight they showed almost got them the win, and helped keep Sarri his job. Lessons were certainly learnt

Verdict: Whilst the demolition job at the Etihad ensured that City secured a vital league victory, Chelsea’s resurgence is a reminder that close fixtures can often provide excellent opportunities for opposition sides to swiftly rectify their mistakes.

Though this example saw City walk away with silverware, a similar scenario against Tottenham could see Pochettino’s side inflict a deadly blow in the title race.

Manchester City vs Arsenal – February/March 2018

Last season saw City advance to the Carabao Cup Final against Arsenal, which meant the two teams played twice in five days. First, the Blues lined up at Wembley, and then took on the Gunners on their own turf at the Emirates Stadium.

February 25th 2018: Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 25: Vincent Kompany of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his sides second goal during the Carabao Cup Final between Arsenal and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on February 25, 2018 in London, England. (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

A defensively naive Arsenal went behind mid-way through the first half and never looked like coming back into the game as City’s old boys Aguero, Kompany, and David Silva took them apart to lift City’s first trophy of the 2017/18 season.

A special shout out goes to Shkodran Mustafi, whose limp protests at feeling Sergio Agüero’s hand on his back fell on deaf ears and brought a fair few laughs. As it would turn out, the German’s ineptitude rather summarised Arsenal’s efforts on the day.

March 1st 2018: Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City

Manchester City’s Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva (2nd R) shoots to score the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium in London on March 1, 2018. (Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images)

City played essentially the same line-up a few days later with Bernardo Silva replacing Fernandinho and Ederson coming in for Bravo, while Arsenal made four changes and switched up formation, opting to play in a more attacking mindset.

As you can see from the score-line though, it made no difference at all to the outcome. The Gunners came out of the gate with a little more bite than at Wembley, but were outdone by a Bernardo wonder strike and some terrific Ederson saves, including a penalty.

Arsenal then looked to give up in the second half, as did their fans with many leaving early, and it wasn’t long after that Wenger announced his departure from the club. While Arsenal tried something a little different from the previous game, they failed to stop the rampant City attack and the difference in class between the two sides was there for all to see.

Verdict: Unlike Chelsea, Arsenal’s efforts go to show how modifying your approach can actually do more harm than good. Unlike their London neighbours though, the Gunners’ decision to open out and try to attack City might show the benefits of putting the opposition on the backfoot, forcing further spaces to open out as the opposition come further forward.

Obviously, this chain of events would be ideal for City against Spurs, but it ignores the fact that Tottenham are a far more competent side than Arsenal were in the final months of Arsène Wenger’s reign. That said, should Spurs do a, well, ‘Spurs’ and crumble under pressure, then this might not be as inconceivable as you might think…

Manchester City vs Liverpool – February/March 2016

This contest was the first that came to mind when I thought back on City playing a team multiple times in a week. I was gutted to miss out on the trip to Wembley, and thought I’d make up for it by going to Anfield away the next week.

We all make mistakes.

February 28th 2016: Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City (1-3 penalties)

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 28: Willy Caballero of Manchester City saves a penalty from Adam Lallana of Liverpool in the shoot out during the Capital One Cup Final match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on February 28, 2016 in London, England. (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

A fairly even contest between the two northern sides saw City go up early in the second half, and rue missed chances when Liverpool levelled late in the game. The extra time stalemate led to penalties and what I remember most about this game is my sheer bewilderment when Fernandinho was the first man to step up to the spot for the blues.

Maybe it’s that he scored City’s only goal of the game, or maybe none of the forwards fancied it, but result was the same – he smashed it against the post. Oh well, thanks to the heroics of Willy Caballero, Liverpool missed every penalty after and the trophy went to Manchester.

March 2nd 2016: Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – MARCH 02: Adam Lallana of Liverpool scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield on March 2, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The mid-week game after might well be an example of a team learning more about City than the other way around. Liverpool were quick, decisive, and clinical in this match. As a fan, it was like watching a completely different team to the week before. It was probably like that for the players as well. This was also the game where James Milner’s pirouette celebration cost him the respect of Cityzens everywhere.

For me, this match was emblematic of City at the time; failing to be on form for every game and resting on the laurels of a recent big win. You can’t say this about Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City today though, which is important with the upcoming run-in.

Verdict: The prime example of ‘Please Don’t Do This’ in the upcoming games. A nervy first game in the cup, followed swiftly by a limp defeat in the league. The stuff of nightmares.

In all honesty, you can excuse the first match on account of it being an isolated cup final, but the stakes of such an occasion should remind us all how crucial it is to not capitulate during a game. Pellegrini’s men might have left Wembley with a trophy but you can’t help feeling that allowing Liverpool back into the game showed warning signs of weakness. Do that against Spurs and City could be in real trouble, particularly with both the second leg of a European quarter-final and a league game still to play.

There have been some other repeated fixtures for City in the last few years. A mixed bag of a win and loss to Leicester City this season, a draw and loss to Everton three years ago, and wins against Swansea City the season after. But these games, like the others mentioned, all involved the Premier League and the League Cup. Though some involved the League Cup final, it just doesn’t compare with the pressure of the Champions League knock-out stages.

This could be City’s biggest test yet under Pep, with the two biggest trophies of the season in the balance. Not to mention the fact that the first match is Tottenham’s second game in their new stadium, which will make the atmosphere even more intense.

These two teams will learn a lot about each other this month and if we can take anything from recent history, City would do well to repeat their process from their matches against Chelsea and Arsenal. Play their own game, follow Pep’s way, learn from the previous matches, and take absolutely nothing for granted. 

You can follow the author on Twitter here: @ignoblewretch

You can follow us on Twitter for more Manchester City content: @City_Xtra

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