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Why Manchester City have struggled in PL this season?

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After winning two consecutive Premier League titles, Manchester City have struggled to keep up the pressure on league leaders Liverpool.

Since the arrival of Pep Guardiola at the Etihad, Manchester City have become a force to reckon with. They are the current record holders of most points won in a single Premier League campaign with 100 points in the 2017-18 season. Last season they won 98 points and won the domestic quadruple. Even this season they are comfortably sitting second in the PL table. But that is because many top teams are in a transitional phase.

If we compare the points per game of the last three seasons, we’ll realise that City have been dismal in the league this season.

SeasonGoals scoredPoints wonPoints per game
2017-181061002.63
2018-1995982.58
2019-2071602.06

If we look at the points per game this season, City have won just above 2 points per game. So what exactly has gone wrong with Manchester City this season?

There are two big factors as to why Pep’s side have struggled:

  1. Injuries & Replacements
  2. Tactical & Statistical factor

Guardiola’s side have been poor defensively this season and have conceded many goals. Last season City were one of the best defence in the league. Vincent Kompany was phenomenal under Pep and partnered Aymeric Laporte to form one of the best centre-back duos in England. However, Kompany left after the end of last season and Laporte got injured for the whole season. City couldn’t replace Kompany and Pep had no choice but to play Nicolas Otamendi with Fernandinho. Another injury issue was Leroy Sane. He was injured earlier this season in the Community Shield game and was sidelined for almost the whole season. Guardiola’s squad was cut short due to injuries.

Let’s check out the tactical factor. Without Kompany and Laporte, Pep was forced to play Fernandinho alongside Otamendi. However, City signed Rodri as Fernadinho’s replacement. Sane’s unavailability led to Pep starting Sterling on the left-wing and Mahrez on the right. Mendy was injured mostly last season and Zinchenko started many games under Pep. However, Mendy has been a regular in the Premier League. Guardiola’s most used line changed a lot and this was a big reason for City’s issues.

Manchester-City-line-up

City no left footed CB available and Fernandinho took up the left centre-back role. So a right-footed CB playing on the left has fewer options to pass when he gets pressed by the opponents’ striker. There’s no doubt that Laporte is a top-class ball-playing centre-back. But Fernandinho’s ball-playing ability is not as good as Laporte’s. So when pressed by the striker, there’s a high chance that Fernandinho misplaced a pass with his left as his options on the right are cut down due pressing. This means that Fernandinho is less confident in playing the ball out from the back.

PlayerPass per gameProgressive Passes PGProgressive carries PG
Laporte (2018-19)82873
Fernandinho (2019-20)73665

This proves that the build-up play from the back this season is not as smooth as it was last season with Laporte. This season City has a lower possession than it was last season. Another change this season is the number 6 role. Rodri has more passes per game as compared to Fernandinho’s last season. However, he has significantly less progressive passes to initiate attack as compared to Fernandinho’s last season.

Zinchenko played as the left-back last season and he liked to invert into a midfielder to help Fernandinho defensively. However, Mendy is a traditional full-back and likes to play on the wings. Due to this, there’s huge pressure on Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne has to drop deep at times to help out the Spaniard.

Another change is Sterling is starting games as a right-winger and his numbers have dropped significantly. Riyad Mahrez is the first choice right winger instead of Sterling & Bernardo. The Algerian winger has been one of the best players for City this season. In fact, he has statistically outperformed Sane’s last season. However, he has changed the dynamics of the team. Both Sterling and Mahrez tend to cut in from the wings, which leads to crowding in the attack at times and less space for City’s attacking midfielders to operate. Everyone has witnessed the miscommunication between Mahrez and other players upfront.

Manchester City have been more dependent on crosses this season due to the overcrowding and miscommunication between players. We’ve all witnessed Kyle Walker, who plays as the third CB when Mendy goes ahead, push forward and provide services from crosses. De Bruyne has also been crossing a lot more than last season.

Aguero and Jesus have rotated in the striker position for the past three seasons. Both players have missed penalties in crucial games leading to City dropping points. Jesus was expected to replace Aguero and slowly phase him out of the squad. However, the Brazilian has consistently underperformed his xG for a third straight season. This means that Jesus needs to be a lot more clinical than he is now.

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