Pep Guardiola must fix leaky defence for Manchester City to translate performances into wins

Loss at Everton probably served to cement manager's view he needs defensive reinforcements to ensure City’s possession and passing is built on stable base, writes Richard Jolly.

Manchester City have been troubled by problems in their defence. Lee Smith / Reuters
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Manuel Pellegrini has a tendency towards vagueness. When he quoted figures, they were sometimes incorrect. Occasionally, however, he was uncharacteristically precise.

In August 2015, the Chilean declared that Manchester City could concede no more than 30 or 31 goals if they wanted to win the title. They let in 41 and finished fourth.

They have conceded 26 this season, and if they continue at this rate are on target to let in 47 by the end of the season.

The number Pep Guardiola concentrated on at Goodison Park was the 10-point deficit to leaders Chelsea that led him to conclude City’s title push is probably over.

If he is right, and Chelsea’s relentlessness suggests he may be, Guardiola should identify one prime cause.

He feels that a team with the most possession in the league have been found wanting in both boxes.

Certainly City have not always been clinical in attack, but that is the lesser concern. The case for the defence is decaying.

City’s defensive record has got progressively worse since their 2011/12 title-winning campaign. It is set to deteriorate again. It started under Pellegrini, who initially benefited from his predecessor’s organisational prowess and hatred of conceding.

Roberto Mancini came in, repeated the word “mentality” ad infinitum and created one. Now City are slipshod too often, with individual errors compounded by positional problems and an acceptance they will concede.

Remarkably, they only have four clean sheets in 21 league games. Burnley have five, Bournemouth six, Middlesbrough seven.

Also read: Silva integral to Guardiola's chances of delivering silverware

Central defender John Stones did not make a great return to Everton, his first appearance back at Goodison Park since leaving them for City in the summer, with a misdirected clearance leading to the last goal. Yet while some criticism of the developing Stones has been overblown, Nicolas Otamendi has fewer excuses for his erratic displays.

At 28, he ought to be the finished article, City’s defensive leader. Their recruitment in the summer was intended to alleviate the reliance on the injury-prone Vincent Kompany. Instead the captain seems ever more important.

The contrast comes in the full-back positions where City have not paid a fee since Maicon’s surprise arrival in 2012.

The four thirty-somethings were granted a reprieve last summer. History is unlikely to repeat itself this year. Pablo Zabaleta is at least railing valiantly against an age-enforced decline, but Gael Clichy, who has struggled most to adapt to Guardiola’s demands, coughed up possession for Everton’s first goal.

Another veteran, Yaya Toure, was pressed into service as the defensive midfielder in the absence of the suspended Fernandinho.

The vibrant teenager Tom Davies and Kevin Mirallas might not have been able to run away from the Brazilian so easily.

It is an extraordinary statistic that City have conceded to their opponents’ first shot on target seven times already.

It can explain why Guardiola feels unfortunate. Yet another number is worrying: Claudio Bravo has conceded 14 goals from the last 22 shots on target he has faced.

Few can be categorised as horrendous mistakes but the trend is damning: other goalkeepers pull off more stops when they could be forgiven if they were beaten.

Comparisons with Joe Hart will dog the Chilean until he can convince outsiders that he saves City points, along with strikers’ shots.

That shortage of saves perhaps backs up Guardiola’s argument that only Tottenham Hotspur have outplayed City this season. He believes performances have merited more points.

To procure them, however, City must be less porous. Their loss at Everton probably only served to cement the Catalan’s view that he needs defensive reinforcements to ensure City’s possession and passing is built on a stable base and that their better work is not undermined every time opponents advance.

Changes in personnel and mentality are required, securing not just quality but Guardiola-style players and not just individuals but a unit, if some good may is to come from Goodison Park.

For City, short-term pain must precede long-term gain.

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