Sunday’s defeat continued a recurring theme this season: City performing well but failing to win, but it can’t go on with looming Los Blancos test
“It happened again,” Pep Guardiola mourned after Manchester City’s 2-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday evening, the Citizens’ sixth Premier League loss of the campaign.
For anyone who missed Sunday’s game or didn’t pay attention to the details, the champions were defeated by Jose Mourinho’s side in what was a classic smash-and-grab result at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“We played well but lost the game,” Guardiola lamented on Sunday. “They had two shots and scored two goals. A few times this season it has happened.”
In a sense, it’s hard to not share Pep’s point of view and sympathise with the manner of his side’s latest defeat: the Citizens dominated possession at Spurs, created a horde of chances and conceded little, only to fall to a defeat.
This was no Mourinho masterclass. Careless Man City have only themselves to blame for losing a match they ought to have won comfortably. A recurring theme this season. pic.twitter.com/mKmmuxH9K9
— Oluwaseye Omidiora (@theReal_SeyE) February 3, 2020
Digging deeper, the Manchester outfit had 19 attempts to their hosts’ three, fashioned out three big chances to Spurs’ one, hit the woodwork twice and missed a penalty. Furthermore, with xG of 0.42 to 3.23, City’s dominance was further validated.
Man City 2-2 Spurs.
Big chances 4-0
Spurs 2-0 Man City
Big chances: 1-4.
The story of Guardiola’s season.
— Oluwaseye Omidiora (@theReal_SeyE) February 2, 2020
The last time Guardiola’s troops had Expected Goals of 3 or higher, they hit Aston Villa for six at Villa Park, winning 6-1. Against Spurs, though, they failed to make the net bulge once; carelessly throwing away a game they dominated for the first hour until Oleksandr Zinchenko’s inane sending off on the hour.
So much focus was placed on City’s sixth loss of the season – their tally for league defeats in the last two seasons combined – that Raheem Sterling’s injury in the 84th minute took the back seat.
While out-of-form, the Englishman is a vital component of Guardiola’s side and with the forward a potential absentee for weeks – if Pep is serious about its severity – it only puts a greater onus on Riyad Mahrez to step things up with the Champions League Round of 16 test with Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid just around the corner.
The Algerian has scored seven times, while providing the same number of assists in 21 league appearances, a modest return on first viewing.
However, the former Leicester City man’s contributions have come in 14 starts, which make for improved reading.
Only Sergio Aguero (14 starts and 62 minutes per game) has similar appearance stats, while Sterling has started 22 fixtures and has played 84 minutes per game. City’s best player Kevin De Bruyne has played from the off 23 times and has clocked 83 minutes per game.
Mahrez, on the other hand, averages 60 minutes per game, with a scoring frequency of a goal every 180 minutes, which isn’t bad for a player who has to share game time in a very competitive squad.
Be that as it may, with Sterling’s injury and Leroy Sane still unfit, somebody has to carry the can in wide areas against La Liga’s leading side in the coming weeks.
Admittedly, the Citizens play West Ham United (on Sunday) and the Foxes in the league before February 26’s trip to the Santiago Bernabeu, but the perception surrounding their season suggests the focus ought to switch to Europe’s premier club competition.
With Liverpool a staggering 22 points clear at the top with 13 games remaining, unless something extraordinary happens, Mahrez and his teammates are certainly outgoing champions with Jurgen Klopp’s troops so far ahead.
The four-time Premier League winners are on the verge of being supplanted after two dominant seasons at the pinnacle of the top flight, and while the schadenfreude that’s greeted their malaise has been beyond belief, success in Europe will only silence fault-finders.
City’s profligate finishing in recent weeks has been a concern, with Sunday’s defeat in North London appearing to serve as further proof of Pep’s side lacking a killer instinct this season.
The Manchester club have created 95 clear-cut chances in 25 games and have missed 55 already. They are on pace to create 144 and miss 84. Staggering numbers, certainly, but this has been their broad form since 2017/18.
In 17/18, they created 91 and missed 63. Last season, 123 big chances were fashioned out with 70 not put away.
At this stage last season they’d scored 66 times, this year they have 65 goals.
Evidently, there’s been an yearly rise to their chances created/missed stats, so this year’s increase shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it only confirms that ‘the more you create the more you miss’.
What has been strange is their seemingly soft underbelly that’s letting them concede cheap goals.
Of course there are mitigating factors – Aymeric Laporte’s absence, Vincent Kompany’s departure and Fernandinho playing more in defence instead of midfield – but 29 goals conceded (many of them low-percentage shots allowed) is odd for a Guardiola side.
For even more context, they conceded 23 last term and 27 the season before, further emphasising this year’s issues at the back.
In an attacking sense, notably, Mahrez has missed only two of the aforementioned 95 clear-cut chances (Jesus, Sterling and Aguero have missed 15, 12 and nine respectively), which is explained by an examination of Guardiola’s style.
While City’s widemen tend to maintain the width, the left winger (mostly Sterling) makes late darting runs into the six-yard box from his position out wide to score from crosses delivered from the right-sided channel – often De Bruyne – or cut-backs from the under-lapping right-back or the right winger keeping the team’s width.
When the ball is on the left side, Mahrez doesn’t make these runs as often as his English teammate, probably a contributing factor to his fewer goals and lesser missed opportunities.
Nevertheless, one thing that sets the Algerian apart from his City teammates is his individualistic style, which can be worthwhile in Europe when games get tight and tense.
In his two Champions League successes with Barcelona, Lionel Messi was the player who turned tricky games in Pep’s favour, and while Mahrez cannot compare to the Argentine superstar, their are parallels between the pair.
Pep’s setups are usually designed to create many chances and limit the opponents’, but that oddly hasn’t been enough since he left Spain in 2012, with some drawing the conclusion that he cannot conquer Europe without Messi.
Nevertheless, the Citizens need to solve persistent issues at the back and stop conceding flimsy goals if they’re to have any chance of succeeding in Europe.
West Ham United are the visitors to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, and it’ll be another chance to see if the Manchester outfit will miss more odd chances and concede more easy goals, or run riot and blow David Moyes’ team to smithereens.
The general trope in football is to take it one game at a time and not look too far ahead, but with City’s Premier League campaign all but done, Guardiola could be forgiven for obsessing over the trip to Real Madrid in late February rather than Sunday evening.
Still, the two-time winner of the competition will need his maverick Algerian at his best if he is to dismiss the notion that he can’t conquer Europe without Messi.