Manchester City went into the World Cup break on the worst possible note, losing 2-1 to Brentford at the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League. The defeat saw the Sky Blues stay second in the table but Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Wolves meant the lead at the top of the table was stretched to five points.
Pep Guardiola’s side have played champagne football for most of the season so far, but at the same time have struggled to break down teams on odd occasions. With the Premier League on a halt and a lot to ponder for Guardiola over the World Cup break, here are three things we have learned from Manchester City this season.
#Man City have problems at the back
Manchester City boasts of the second-best defensive record in the division, but they have conceded 14 goals in as many Premier League games.
Goalkeeper Ederson’s form has been enviable, while full-back Joao Cancelo continues to put in productive displays, but City’s central defence still looks distinctly shaky in its current state. Guardiola has used Nathan Ake, Manuel Akanji, John Stones, Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte in central defence throughout the 14 games.
Injury to Laporte and Stones has forced Guardiola to chop and change personnel at centre-back, and while Akanji and Ake have shown signs of building a strong partnership, the Sky Blues must toughen its spine to keep more clean sheets and win games without much hassle.
#Erling Haaland needs to stay fit
One cannot deny the impact Erling Haaland has had at Man City since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in the summer transfer window. Not only has he transformed City’s attack but also provided Guardiola with a genuine, consistent source of goals.
However, Haaland missing a few games due to injury problems has seen City struggle in front of goal. It is a curious case for a team that played for much of last season and the year before without a recognised number nine, but have become so reliant on the Norwegian international for goals since the start of the campaign.
In the games that Haaland has missed, the Sky Blues have lacked a focal point and genuine threat in the box. In short, they have looked toothless in attack at times, and while Guardiola does have a wealth of attacking talents at his disposal to churn out results without their talismanic striker, keeping Haaland fit and firing throughout the season could turn out to be the difference between City winning and losing the title.
#Kyle Walker has been missed
Kyle Walker arrived at Man City from Tottenham in the summer of 2017 and has gone on to prove himself as one of the most important signings in the modern era for the club. Ever since becoming a part of the City backline, Walker has made the right-back spot his own by using his aggressive and attacking style of play.
Despite struggling for fitness in the weeks leading up to the World Cup, the full-back has made it to Gareth Southgate’s England squad. Walker last played at the start of October in City’s 6-3 win over Man United at home, and his injury absence has hampered Pep Guardiola’s side.
In Walker’s absence, Stones has operated as a makeshift right-back and while he’s done well, the English centre-back doesn’t provide the thrust, dynamism and aggression that Walker provides to the team. The 32-year-old’s presence makes City more robust defensively while giving his team an attacking avenue down the right flank.
The mix of defensive diligence and attacking qualities has made Walker such a crucial cog in the City team, and Guardiola will hope the England international returns from the World Cup unscathed.