City are hanging in there, grinding out results and showing an improvement in defensive solidarity, but they are already on the back foot in the title race this season. And after a weak showing by their standards last season, the pressure is on.
The Attacking Problems Causing Issues for Manchester City
Guardiola Responds to Manchester City ‘s Attacking Problems in West Ham United Draw
“We started really well. We suffered in the last 10 or 15 minutes of the first half. In the second half, we were better and scored early. We had the chances we needed to win the game.”
Those were the words of Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola after yet another disappointing attacking display. Last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with West Ham United was yet another example of an unusual problem he is currently facing – scoring goals.
In truth, City did not play badly at the London Stadium. They had over 70% possession, double the number of shots of the home side, as well as far more corners and efforts on target. It was a similar story in their 1-1 draw against Leeds United at the start of the month, when they had 23 shots to the home side’s 12. They were particularly dominant in the first 15 minutes, having 66% of the ball and scoring very soon after before Leeds came back in sterling fashion.
Dropping Points Frustrating for City
Guardiola has become visibly frustrated over the number of points slipping away, but why does it keep happening? Firstly, the effectiveness of their periods on the ball has become a concern. In the Premier League this season, City top the charts for average per cent possession (59.5) per game, while they also rank second for average passes per match (634.6).
However, City are averaging fewer shots per game (16) this season than in 2019/20 (19.6), as well as their previous two title-winning campaigns (17.5 in 2017/18, 18 in 2018/19). What is also interesting is from where they are taking those shots. This season, Guardiola’s side are averaging 7.2 efforts outside the six-yard box – more than any other side in the Premier League and more than in any of the previous three seasons.
As a result, the accuracy of their shooting has suffered. This season, they are averaging only 5.6 shots on target, compared to 7 in 2017/18, 2019/20, and 6.8 in 2018/19. Understandably, their preference to shoot further away from goal has reduced their chances of scoring. City only have eight league goals to their name so far – only five teams have scored fewer, with four of those sitting below them in the table.
City’s Chance Creation Less Efficient
There are issues before those shots occur, too. Stats show that City are not creating chances as efficiently, compared to previous seasons. So far, across their three Premier League games they are creating 2.3 big chances on average – fewer than their tally of 2.8 last season and 2.7 in 2018/19. Number of touches in the opposition penalty box per game are down too, with the Sky Blues averaging just 22 this season, compared to 30 over those two previous seasons.
These issues, therefore, point to the fact that, despite having plenty of possession, City are not making enough use of it. ‘It’s not the possession that matters but the intention behind it,’ Guardiola once said in Marti Perarnau’s book Pep Confidential, in which the journalist closely followed the Spaniard progress during his first season with Bayern Munich. ‘I hate tiquitaca. I hate it Tiquitaca means passing the ball for the sake of it, with no clear intention. And it’s pointless.’
Lack of Options
The other reason behind City’s slow start to the season in attack has been down to a lack of personnel. Striker Sergio Aguero has only played 109 minutes in the Premier League this season and is expected to be out for most of November. Gabriel Jesus has not featured since the 3-1 win at Wolves on the opening day. Also worth noting is that Phil Foden is only just settling in as David Silva’s long-term replacement in midfield.
The worry for Guardiola is who can step up to the mark in the meantime. Raheem Sterling remains a world-class goal threat but even he is struggling for consistency; he missed a pair of big chances against West Ham and also fluffed his lines in the draw with Leeds.
“We have two strikers injured and Raheem [Sterling] is playing in a position where is fighting a lot, he’s doing it every game in a position that is not his,” the City boss told reporters this week.
“We are trying to adapt to what we have. Even with that we created chances.”
The pressure will be on the likes of Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and new signing Ferran Torres to contribute more, going forward.
Of course, this season has only been a small sample size and there is plenty of time for City to turn things around. Yet the brutal nature of this unusually condensed season means that Guardiola’s squad is set to be tested like never before; this could disrupt any potential rhythm returning to City’s attacking play.
This is a strange situation for Guardiola but one he needs to fix quickly. City’s title hopes could well depend on it.