Here’s a bit more post-mortem from Manchester City’s shock 2-3 home loss to Crystal Palace and looking forward to the upcoming three games.
1. Fortress breached
Manchester City lost their first home game in the Premier League since April 2018, when Manchester United also came from behind to beat the blues with same score line ie 2-3. Pep Guardiola has now for the first time lost a Premier League home game to a team outside the top six. In his previous 36 home games vs Premier League teams outside the top six, Guardiola’s City had won 30 games and drawn 6 games.
2. Starting XI was good enough
There was nothing wrong in Pep’s lineup yesterday vs Crystal Palace. Fernandinho needed rest – refer to the table above showing minutes played by each Manchester City player in the Premier League. Considering he runs box to box, his minutes on field would convert to more kilometers covered than those covered by Ederson and Laporte. I don’t have the data but am certain the Brazilian maestro would have run more kilometres than any other ManCity player this season, or at least be in the top two. With tougher away games vs resurgent Leicester City, reviving Southampton and a critical home game vs leaders Liverpool coming up in the next 11 days, this was the only game left to rest his legs.
3. A bad loss
De Bruyne, Aguero, Silva had injuries and couldn’t have been rushed back for the Palace game and even otherwise the selected lineup should have won a home game vs a 15th ranked team. If that XI can’t win vs a team that had won just one away game and scored just two away goals in the Premier League this season, before this game, then winning the league is tough. Jurgen Klopp also rested number of key Liverpool players vs Burnley, away from home and still they won that game. Reason – Liverpool’s stingy top class defence.
4. No ‘Walker’ in the park for Kyle
Defence was what let Manchester City down yesterday. Kyle Walker had a nightmare game yesterday and it could be down to his playing minutes too. Unlike Laporte, Walker is bombing up and down the flanks and may have run the third highest miles (after Bernardo Silva & Fernandinho) for the sky blues. Fernandinho was rightly rested, he is City’s key most player. But it’s time Walker got a game off too just to help recuperate. If Danilo is fit, the Brazilian should start the game vs Leicester and Walker be rested only for that game.
5. Stones discomforts as CDM
John Stones as CDM (Central Defensive Midfielder) was a big flop and probably the biggest news from yesterday’s game. Gone were his immaculate passing accuracy, passing range and tackling skills. He looked far better when he was shifted back to defence and had those extra seconds to control the ball. This also means should Fernandinho get injured anytime this season (touch wood, not), the logical backup for the CDM position should be Fabian Delph or Ilkay Gundogan and definitely not Stones. Not to say the least, ManCity have to buy a CDM on priority this summer. Or better still in this ongoing winter window.
6. The Leicester challenge
I fear for ManCity’s next two away games – at Leicester City and at Southampton. Around the same time of the year, three years ago, City limped to a 0-0 draw at Leicester. No blue fan has forgotten that 4-2 hammering got in the following season and even last season it needed two Kevin De Bruyne masterclass goals to edge out this matchup as victors. Leicester City are on an upward swing in form and upset Chelsea yesterday night at Stamford Bridge. This match won’t be easy at all – even in the Carabao cup games, this year and last year, Manchester City needed penalty shootouts to oust Leicester City.
7. The Southampton challenge
A similar set of mixed bag results are there in the last three Premier League matches at the St Mary’s stadium. Three seasons ago, the Saints had beaten Manuel Pellegrini’s Man City by that same dreaded score line – 4-2. Guardiola’s Man City won there 0-3 in 2016 and then in Manchester’s historic title-winning campaign, Gabriel Jesus scored with virtually the last kick of ManCity’s season to give them the #Centurions tag. Southampton are in an upward swing under their new manager and have back to back wins over Arsenal and Huddersfield – scoring six goals over these two games.
8. Two losses in three games
I am not seeing a great end to the calendar year for Guardiola’s men, coming on the back of two losses in the last three Premier League games. Shockingly in those three games, ManCity have let in six goals from barely nine shots (on their goal) by Chelsea, Everton and Palace combined. This is very worrying. The pattern is such that any serious attack from opposition teams has very high probability of resulting in ManCity conceding a goal!
9. Defining week
The next three games will define the rest of the season for the blues and the pressure is immense as Liverpool have been masterful at their end. The reds have been winning games from all positions, riding their luck at times (also pointed by Jose Mourinho in his last press conference as Manchester United manager), no key injuries so far, an extremely stingy defence and still unbeaten in the league.
10. Will title race be over this week?
However, make no mistake, even if City end up being 5-8 points behind Liverpool by January 5th – end of New Year fixtures, it doesn’t necessarily mean end of their league campaign. In football things change drastically within a week – as can be seen from City’s last three league games. As can be seen from how Liverpool suddenly overturned their season from around same time last year and have been on a marauding spree since January 2018. Prior to Christmas 2017 fixtures, Liverpool were hovering around the fifth position in the league table. City has played all their tough opponents away from home, barring Manchester United. Liverpool have to play Arsenal (next weekend) and generally have a tougher run of fixtures in February & March 2019, not least their Champions League clash vs Bayern Munich then. Also by simple law of averages, and the fact that 2018 was the year of the World Cup, Liverpool are due for some injuries to their star players.
XI. Things change in football fast
Manchester City will have a better 2019, but will that be enough to stop Liverpool’s best run in decades? … only time will tell. If Liverpool continue their (best) unbeaten run there will be many mid table teams having the extra motivation to stop them. So things will change … As a student and worshipper of the game, it’s exciting times ahead. Sad days will come – head dug inside pillow, hidden behind palms, fist punching the walls will be there – but then those shrieks of ecstasy, the pumping of the fists, the throwing of the cushions in happiness .. will be there too!
I have authored the book ‘The Pep Guardiola Centurions – Against all odds’. If keen to read, you can buy it from the following links.