Five Things We Learned: Manchester City 2-5 Leicester City (Premier League)
Manchester City suffered a humiliating 5-2 home defeat at the hands of a Jamie Vardy-led Leicester. Pep Guardiola’s side were aiming to build on their Monday night victory against Wolves, in their first home game of the season. After a positive start which enabled City to take the lead from a thunderbolt finish from Riyad Mahrez, things just went bad to appalling from the boys in blue.
Losing in football is inevitable but the old adage of ‘how you lose’ is all the more important. And the defeat Leicester inflicted on City is reminiscent of the one back in Guardiola’s first year - dysfunction, clunky build up play and abhorrent defending. This defeat was damning for a side with hopes of regaining the Premier League title.
With that in mind, here are the five things we learned from a dreadful Sunday afternoon for Manchester City...
Defenders are not good enough
Where else can we start after City concede five goals at home, three of which were penalties. Now please note that the performance was collectively awful, but the structure defensively either as a group or in one on ones was simply not good enough for a relegation battling side, never mind a title challenging one.
City as a whole did look promising in the opening exchanges, looking spry and tenacious. But once Harvey Barnes found his own postcode in behind the space left from Walker and Fernandinho, the warning signs were there for all to see. The backline was disfigured as City tried every avenue to break down Leicester’s stubborn low block. Walker and Mendy pushed up, leaving oceans of space down the channel with four immobile players to police it.
Once City’s pressing slowed down just after half an hour, Garcia thankfully recovered to cut out two Leicester counter attacks. But that was not to last, a cute inside ball to Vardy on the edge of the box caught Walker on the wrong side and he preceded to pull back Vardy, who hit the deck. School boy defending from Walker who, to put salt in the wound, played Vardy onside as he had travelled a half yard past the City backline.
The second half saw a continuation of dreadful decision making as Eric Garcia shoulder barged an on-rushing Jamie Vardy as he went to collect an inside ball. For Vardy’s cute near post finish, Garcia was flat footed and did not anticipate the move in order to be goal side.
And finally, when the game was all but lost, Mendy performed a carbon copy of Walker’s infringement in the first half on James Maddison who again had caught him the wrong side of goal, allowing the Englishman to fall to the ground and give the referee no choice.
This City backline stank of the Norwich away performance last year, and I fear that that back four may not set up the same again. With Aymeric Laporte back to first team action, Nathan Aké still understanding the system and the possibility of Benfica centre back Ruben Dias becoming a City player in a matter of hours, that centre half pairing of Nathan Ake & Eric Garcia may well be the first and last (I hope).
More Midfielders the Better….
Most City fans have discussed at length Pep’s recent persistence with a double pivot at the base of midfield. In one sense it was down to David Silva’s gradual regression but in large part it was down to the difficulty Rodri had adapting to the speed of the league and his complex role as the sole holding midfielder. Gundogan played a majority of last season next to Rodri to provide that defensive insurance and be more dominant on the ball. That did however hamper City going forward as they had one less player in the final third link up play.
This season seems to have taken one step further in order to maintain stability and control in the central areas, with Pep deploying a false nine in the frame of Sterling and/or Foden. While working well against Wolves and Real Madrid, both of those side exclusively looked to maintain possession and build up play, allowing our fluid front four to press at will and create immediate counter attacks. That could not happen against a stubborn, well drilled and incisive Leicester outfit.
City have always struggled against a tight back five, with no room to play those inside passes and leave defenders isolated in 1v1 situations. Without the presence of a Gabriel Jesus to be that nuisance and create spaces between the back line, players like Kevin De Bruyne or Raheem Sterling never found themselves in decisive areas to test Kasper Schmeichel in Leicester’s goal. The over use of midfielders and a lack of any focal point, meant all the play was in front of Leicester’s defence, enabling them to cut out the half spaces and shift horizontally back and forth until City were forced into an error.
No Pace in Transition
What was striking in the performance today was how slow many City’s players were. In their Centurion season, it appeared every player was operating on another level physically. Running quicker and smarter as they diced their way through most team’s flailing defence.
City’s players, especially defensively, looked so far off the pace it was quite alarming given we are in the early stages of the season. Leicester were able to find ways through the City press and enable a bunch of supporting runners quicker than the City players could recover back to position.
The first penalty case in point, as was highlighted by Gary Neville in commentary, Fernandinho presses Leicester’s Mendy who in a tight window turns passed City’s midfielder and plays in Harvey Barnes. Barnes is then onto City’s back four, Garcia stands off and allows Barnes to play a cute inside pass to Vardy, leading Walker to stupidly foul him. It feels an eternity ago where City defenders could stand tall and look combative and comfortable against on rushing attackers. Now, that shaky back line feels like it will shatter at the sign of pace and trickery.
Gassing Out Already?
City started strongly in both games, pressing with intensity and co-ordination, nullifying the opposition to next to nothing going forward. Yet as both game wore on, City’s press began to wain and both Wolves and Leicester had significant purple patches where they created a plethora of chances.
In the case of Leicester, City created next no significant chances that really tested Schmeichel. Outside of Fernandinho’s header from a delightful De Bruyne cross or Mahrez’ wayward effort when he should have slipped in Foden, there was never any sense City would get back into the game. It was vacuous and a shadow of the side that had dominated English football.
We can only hope this is simply down to a culmination of bad circumstances. City’s injury list is extensive, players like Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva & Sergio Aguero could have made a huge impact if fit; but Guardiola was forced into calling upon 17-year-old Liam Delap to make a difference on his Premier League debut. Nevertheless, City still had enough to beat a very good Leicester side. De Bruyne, Sterling, Foden, Mahrez were anonymous for large chunks of that game. There were some nice movements but it usually led to a failed cross hoping to find two City players in a sea of Leicester defenders.
Similar to the affair at Molineux on Monday, once the opposition started to build confidence and create chances, City began to look leggy. They looked tired and bereft of ideas going forward. Rather than working on instinct from rigorous work on the training pitch, their play in both games (mainly in the second halves) has been neat and tidy with no real precision or conviction either on or off the ball.
New Season, Same Frailties
With no real pre-season whatsoever and a shortened summer break, the performance against Leicester screams that the issues from last season are lingering on. While that might be suspected, the defensive frailties have been known for some time. Guardiola tried to rectify the issue somewhat with Fernandinho deployed as an inverted right centre back, moving inward to join Rodri in the build up while covering the right-hand side when Walker ventured forward. Yet Fernandinho was caught out a few times and for the Leicester opening goal, Mendy is able to turn him too easily with no pressure or foul, and is unable to double back and remedy his mistake.
That was just one issue that arose throughout the ninety minutes. And yet, once Fernandinho was removed for Delap, our defensive solidity got even worse. Like last season, Pep will be required to find more solutions while the squad remains limited, because the league will have seen the blueprint of how to nullify City’s attack and what areas to focus on when on the counter attack. Other league sides may not possess the technical prowess and pace of this Leicester side, those sides will know they have a chance to hurt Guardiola’s side.
Whether a back three will be deployed again after the Lyon disaster or he will persist with this tactical model knowing it will come good against lesser sides remains to be seen. But I suspect City will see out this period until the international break with a hope that a majority of the injured players will be back fully training and revive the squad for the Arsenal game.
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