Despite the pretty exciting battle so far between the two Manchester giants it seems more and more likely that it will be the Citizens celebrating trophies come the end of the season. Guardiola’s project is going even better than he expected, this according to the man himself. Scoring even more goals than usual, but also defending much better, the Sky Blues look like the team to watch this season.
With five clean sheets in the seven rounds gone, a single goal conceded in the other two matches, plus back-to-back clean sheets at the start of their Champions League campaign, City are really improving fast in that part of their game. It was known for years that the Sky Blues have an incredibly strong attack, by far the best forward line in the Premier League when one looks at the stats for the past five seasons, and with over £200 million spent on defenders and a new goalkeeper this summer, Man City seems to be the real deal in the 2017/18 season!
Before focusing on the defensive side of City’s displays so far a quick review of the bigger picture from what we know at the time of the second international break in October. Having an amazingly versatile squad that starts to understand him more and more, Guardiola has already showed that he can very successfully use different tactics and formations that fit best his aims for a particular game, or help when there are selection issues in the squad.
So far City have used equally three times in the Premier League the formations 3-1-4-2 and 4-1-4-1, with the latter being perfect when Aguero or Jesus are unavailable. The fact that the usual quartet behind the lone striker is made up of the likes of David Silva, De Bruyne, Sterling and Sane ensures that the Citizens would never be short on attacking threat even when playing with just one striker. Guardiola also likes to use 4-1-3-2 on the road, and this formation has brought him a 6:0 win vs. Watford and a 4:0 away success vs. Feyenoord in the Champions League. All this versatility goes to show that Man City can successfully adjust depending on the players they have available and the opposition they are meeting. In stark contrast, their main rivals, United, have been using the same formation in every game they have played and they don’t seem to have the needed variety in their squad to mix things up.
Back to City, one must be impressed with the way some of the players have developed after just one season under Guardiola, and all of Delph (1 goal and 94% passing accuracy in 2 games), Sane (3 goals and 2 assists in just 3 starts) and Sterling (5 goals in 6 games) seem to be ready to shine this season. This only adds to the impressive quality in the squad and it helps the gaffer to deal with the inevitable injury problems. Mendy’s long-term absence - he is likely to be out until March - is undoubtedly a serious loss, but his presence is not needed when City use three at the back, plus Danilo and Delph, as was witnessed against Chelsea, seem to be perfect fits for the role of left-back when this is needed.
Guardiola is also using tactics that are not so well known in England, despite the fact that the top sides in Europe have been using them for years now, and his instructions for the full-backs to push inside the pitch when moving forward opens free spaces for the likes of Sane, Sterling and De Bryune on the wings. Yes, the managers in the Premier League will eventually adjust to that, but until this happens City will continue scoring goals at will. When Bayern started doing that under Guardiola it took the other sides in the Bundesliga more than a full season before they started opposing properly in certain games, and so far it seems that the sides in the Premier League are not quicker learners.
What is so impressive for City is that they can look stunningly good no matter what game plan they adopt. At the beginning of September they opted to sit deep against Liverpool, knowing that the Reds have slow centre-backs and tend to commit too many players forward. Despite having just over 40% possession City cruised to an easy 5:0 win. On the last day of the same month the Citizens showed another face on their visit to Chelsea when an impressive domination of possession throughout the entire 90 minutes saw them achieving an utterly deserved 1:0 victory. These two examples go to show that not only do City have arguably the strongest squad on paper in England, but they also have a manager who is able to outsmart with his tactics even the best of his colleagues.
Finally the main thing that makes Man City the real deal this season has to be their defending. No matter if using three or four at the back the Citizens have looked stunningly solid in every game, and despite the fact that two certain starters in Mendy and captain Kompany have been injured, the displays at the back remain near perfect. In the first seven Premier League rounds City have allowed just 6.4 shots towards their goal per match, of them only 2.1 on target. Also between the defenders and keeper-sweeper Ederson, City are averaging 13.9 successful tackles and exactly 12 interceptions per game. In comparison in their title-winning last season, Chelsea averaged less than 10 tackles and interceptions per match and still had the best defensive record by a mile.
So in conclusion with over 3 goals scored per game and just 1 conceded every three and a half matches, Manchester City seem destined for glory and silverware this season. All stats from the games played so far and comparisons with champions from the past suggest that the Citizens are the real deal this term!
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