Manchester City’s shellacking at Goodison Park was Pep Guardiola’s heaviest league defeat in his career. City were still in the game by half-time but a second half implosion saw Everton romp through unopposed and expose all of City’s frailties. City’s defence, keeper and midfield came under fierce criticism while a dejected-looking Pep Guardiola had his methods questioned again.
Here’s what I learnt from today’s 4-0 defeat to Everton.
Phase Two of Guardiola’s revolution fails?
After the shambolic showing at Leicester in December, Pep all but abandoned his back three in favour of the back four that proved more successful earlier in the season. Even though Pep didn’t want to revert his original formation, the disorganisation and score-lines of the games he elected to play a back three in had forced his hand. In truth, Pep never really rated City with a back four and even when we were winning games, he always had his eyes set on converting us into a full-time* (*most of the time) three at the back team.
But, even though the performances were usually dominant with a back three, City couldn’t find a cutting edge with their new system and the hammer blow he got at Leicester proved convincing enough for him to retire back to the formation which yielded a 10-game winning streak at the beginning of the season.
Fast forward a month and a half and City find themselves back where they started, put to the sword by a team which sat back and lumped the ball long all game. It was far too easy and far too simple a retort to Pep’s complex systems.
Pep reverted to this system only to protect the defenders who he felt weren’t capable of executing what he wanted. But when the same problems arise, the same issues stay prevalent, is it still worth persevering with? Four at the back might have steadied a very rocky ship – five wins out of seven suggest so – but when your flaws continue to stick out like a sore thumb, wouldn’t it be madness to go out and try and play the same way again next week?
So what now? What then?
Is there a solution for a man who seems increasingly doubtful of his team and his own ability to change things for the better? This formation was a reaction to these exact kinds of results yet here Pep is, back at square one. Guardiola’s career was built on tactical flexibility, an obsessive who drives himself mad tinkering and chopping, adjusting and changing in the hope of finding the perfect system. Yet, with every defeat, Pep seems further at a loss than the one before.
Pep thinks he’s done all he can and I might be inclined to agree with him. When all else fails, I guess there’s only one thing left to do. Go out and get better players.
Pep cannot die on this Bravo-shaped hill
I’ve tried really hard with Bravo, I really have. I was a big fan of him and his last three years in football and he looked like the perfect goalkeeper to succeed Joe Hart. From what I’ve watched, read and heard, he seemed like the reliable pair of hands (and feet) to implement Pep’s whole pass-it-out-the-back philosophy. It’s sad then that he’s been anything but.
While his passing has been relatively good this season, he seems remarkably incapable of making saves. Of his time at City, I can count on one hand how many times he’s pulled off a save where I thought “wow, that is top draw”. After his debut against United, I said that goalkeepers of his calibre were worth their weight in gold to a Pep Guardiola team and that any errors he would commit across the season from his passing would still not outweigh the benefits he brings to his team. The only problem is that I was counting on his errors to be a result of his passing and not his ability to be beaten at every shooting opportunity. Bravo’s body shape in one-one-ones is all wrong, he’s feeble in the air and he seems to take an age to get down on his side. The top goalkeepers regularly make important saves and sometimes, when everybody around them is losing their heads, they gift their teams a life-line. But how can you expect Bravo to be that sort of goalkeeper when he is literally incapable of making the save he is expected to?
Pep isn’t an idiot and knows his decision to oust Hart hasn’t been vindicated. He’s also not stubborn enough to die on his Bravo-shaped hill. It’s very difficult to explain how a player could go from hero to zero in mere months but Pep must get a reaction from his Chilean goalkeeper. And that can start with fielding Willy Caballero next week.
City’s rocky defence
City’s shellacking at Goodison Park today revived old questions and new of Manchester City’s defence and it wouldn’t be fair to not touch on this in this What We Learned. City didn’t concede early like they have in previous games but neither did they come back strong in the second half. Instead, they imploded, with all their defensive frailties laid bare for Everton to exploit. Romelu Lukaku ran the channels with ease and bullied Stones and Clichy. I may sound like a broken record now but it is unforgivable to continue fielding full-backs that are so obviously past it and out of their depth.
But what is it with the whole defence? Why does every ball lost in our half seem to result in a goal for the opposing team? Why is this problem precedent in every formation we play? How can you concede 14 goals from 22 shots on target? “I would like to know” was Pep’s answer after the game. Well so do we.