In what has been an unexpected and rather unconventional start to the season for many top-flight teams, Manchester City have had a stuttering start to their 2020/21 season with just three wins from their opening seven league matches.
Pep Guardiola’s side may have virtually secured qualification to the knock-out stages of the Champions League and find themselves just two wins away from a fourth successive Carabao Cup title, but frustratingly things haven’t gone as swimmingly in the league.
After mesmeric points tallies from City and Liverpool in the past three years, many would be surprised to know that Leicester City are currently top of the table with 18 points from eight games.
Even more surprising is that Manchester City could technically be just three points off top spot despite the loss to Leicester and draws to Leeds, West Ham and Liverpool. In fact, just seven points separate 1st from 13th, as the lack of preparation and relentless schedule is starting to cause concern amongst players, managers and clubs alike.
As the players take part in yet another international break, we caught up with City Xtra contributors Brandon Evans, Nathan Allen, Robert Milarvie and Hamish MacRae to try and provide an honest assessment of Manchester City’s first three months…
Manchester City find themselves in 10th position – six points off top spot although with a game in hand, but with just three wins from their opening seven matches. What do you make of Manchester City’s start in the league?
Brandon: Frankly, Manchester City’s start to the season has been underwhelming; silly points were dropped to Leeds and West Ham and although injuries to key players are of course a contributing factor for the two draws, City simply did not deserve to win either game. However, hope remains. Manchester City are unbeaten in their previous nine fixtures and the defensive partnership of Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias has been encouraging.
Nathan: Honestly, I’m thinking that it could have been worse. The loss to Leicester was hugely frustrating and disappointing, as was the draw to Leeds – which we should have won. Had Ruben Dias come in a bit earlier, we could be talking about a very different story. There’s also been a lot of reasons to feel encouraged: we didn’t concede from open play against Liverpool or Arsenal, and there have been moments where we’ve looked like the Centurions again. We just need to re-find that consistency.
Rob: The opening to this season has been interesting to say the least. Similar to the majority of last season, the team still look clunky and unpolished. A lack of pre-season to iron out those deficiencies from last season and to give enough breathing space from the Champions League exit in August has been something that has heavily influenced our faltering start. Crucially though, being left without a striker for a large part of this season has hindered us from gaining much needed momentum.
Despite Pep Guardiola’s positive assessment, Manchester City have thus far dropped points on four occasions. Is there any particular game or moment which has stood out to you and why?
Nathan: The aforementioned defeat to Leicester is the best example of what I think is our biggest problem at the moment – defensive mistakes. We gave away three penalties in that match, highlighting some of the clumsy play at the back that’s been responsible for almost every goal we’ve conceded in the league so far. It’s been individual errors that have cost us more than anything so far this season, not at all like last year when our high line was constantly getting exploited. The tactics seem more solid, but we’re still leaking goals.
Hamish: Unfortunately not the standout we would hope for, the Leeds game was a real rollercoaster. As in plenty of our matches this season, we saw Manchester City come flying out of the blocks in the first 30 minutes, only for tiredness and sloppiness to kick in and for us to take our foot off the gas. The most worrying aspect of the game was that Leeds were barely attempting to defend in the opening stages, practically handing us the ball on a plate from each goal kick, yet we still couldn’t muster more than a single goal and paid the price for it in the second-half.
Brandon: For me, the deserved loss to Leicester epitomised our start to the season. The defending in the game was calamitous, and the absence of both Aymeric Laporte and Ilkay Gundogan were keenly felt. Leicester were gifted three penalties courtesy of our sloppy defending, and the result is one that we are all eager to forget.
Despite the many negatives, there have been some positives. Ferran Torres, Phil Foden, Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias and Kyle Walker (despite Roy Keane’s reactionary remarks) are all examples of the few shining lights. Which player has impressed you most and why?
Hamish: Despite his penalty concessions against Leicester and Liverpool, I think Kyle Walker has carried on his form from last season and has been our best player so far. On the other side, João Cancelo has improved immeasurably, and Ederson’s good start to the campaign has gone under the radar too.
Rob: There have been a couple in truth, even though our season so far has not been perfect. But I think Ruben Dias is clear favourite. Dias’ introduction has been seamless and incredibly promising. The powerful centre half has stepped in and solidified his place in the side. He’ll never be to the level of Vincent Kompany but his commanding spirit and defensive assuredness looks to be the perfect foil for Aymeric Laporte and the hopeful start of an exceptional partnership.
Nathan: The man who’s most impressed me has been Ferran Torres. I didn’t expect him to settle in so quickly, but he’s been dynamite at times. Some of his play has been mouth-watering, he’s scoring regularly and looks far more comfortable as a striker than some of our more experienced wingers. He’s making his fee look like an absolute steal and I can’t wait to see how good he’ll be in four or five years.
Brandon: Several players have greatly impressed me this term, however, I would say that the player who has impressed me the most has been Ilkay Gundogan. I strongly believe that the German is far and away the most underrated player at the club and it still frustrates me that his efforts often go unnoticed. The German has produced several Man of the Match performances and was particularly impressive in the 3-0 victory over Olympiacos. Regarding his efforts often going unnoticed, watch his movement during Jesus’ goal against Liverpool and you’ll see what I mean. Without his intelligent off-the-ball movement to divert the defence away from Jesus, we would not have equalised.
What do you think is the key to the Blues having a successful festive period and where do you expect them to be in the table come January 1st?
Rob: Having the full squad back will certainly help battle through the congested fixture list. I imagine the team will be facing a game every three or so days and the need for both strikers and all four centre halves will be crucial in not over working key areas. Further to that, we need to desperately start killing games off and getting those second and third goals. While being better defensively in recent league games, we have been hanging on in the closing minutes and relying on game management. With our strikers back, we can only hope that that may be a clear solution to that issue.
Brandon: City’s run of fixtures after the trip to Tottenham appear very favourable with four of our next five league fixtures coming against teams currently placed 14th or lower, and with such promising fixtures, I expect City to collect points and build momentum.
Hamish: It’s obviously not fully within our control, but a fully fit squad would be nice. We suffered badly without Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus, illustrating the importance of keeping our key positions well stocked. If we’re still within six points of top spot by New Year’s Day and we’re not considering resigning Stefan Jovetic to cover up front then I’d say that’s a manageable situation.
Nathan: The most important thing will be rotation, and that’s where I’m worrying. Pep’s idea of rotation often seems to be “pick a random game to rest four key players at once” and we usually struggle on those occasions. I think we’ll be within five or six points of the league leaders when 2021 starts, and I’d be happy with that.
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