The last week or so hasn’t been pretty viewing for Manchester City. But, for all the grind and hustle, I think it’s fair to look back in hindsight and suggest that it was all worth it.
City huffed and puffed past Crystal Palace and then proceeded to do the same against Borussia Monchengladbach before Aguero stole a win in a game today that could’ve easily seen more dropped points. Pep’s boys in blue were far from the magical side – win, draw or lose – we’ve become accustomed to this season yet the proclaimed ‘Tiki-Taka merchant’ showcased all the fight and desire you’d probably guess you needed at a stadium that sounds more like a Game of Thrones setting than a place to play football at.
Today’s victory against Burnley means that Manchester City have now won back-to-back Premier League games for the first time since September. A damning indictment of the ground lost to City’s rivals following the best start to a Premier League season. Manchester City have played a lot of football this season and will welcome the fact that they will have no mid-week game next week for the first time this season. Such an opportunity will present ample time for Pep to prepare against Chelsea with a fully rested squad.
A scrappy affair
Guardiola rotated heavily for this fixture with both Ilkay Gundogan and John Stones still yet to make a league appearance since the international break. His makeshift side included marginal players like Gael Clichy, Fernando and an appearance at centre-half for Aleks Kolarov.
Interestingly, it was four at the back again, perhaps to assure a weakened side or perhaps maybe Pep is starting to appreciate the relative lack of success with his back three. Despite the formation, City didn’t start any differently and struggled in the early moments of the game, falling victim to Burnley’s insane Bundesliga-esque pressing on several occasions. But for all their early lethargy, Manchester City reacted superbly to conceding and continued piling on the pressure until Aguero poked in a loose ball from close-range. Another – maybe the worst (or best) goal ever scored in the Premier League – followed in the second half before City rode their luck all the way to three points.
Manchester City’s wingers need to produce more
Pep Guardiola prioritises wingers more than almost any other player in his system. You can have a ball-playing goalkeeper, an intelligent full-back or even an outstanding midfielder but if there is no edge to your knife then there’s not a whole lot of cutting you can do.
Manchester City’s wingers have endured perhaps their worst period of form of the season. Jesus Navas has been the worst player in this squad, Nolito seems more intent on starting on everyone than scoring and Leroy Sané almost completely disappeared off the face of the earth. Even Raheem Sterling who, despite maintaining a consistently high level of performance, has seen his goals and assist numbers in the league completely dry up.
Now I’m not sure if they are aware, or if even their agents have told them but a certain nifty, little Brazilian who happens to play on the wing too is arriving on British shores this January. He might only be 19 but he’s already proven he has prerequisite cojones to stake a claim in this City side. If they don’t buckle up, they could find themselves on the sidelines for good.