Pep better pep up and start to tinker
Man City boss must fix system or he can forget about title
|(Gary Cahill 45-og)||(Diego Costa 60, Willian 70, Eden Hazard 90)|
Pep Guardiola was expected to be the antithesis of Jose Mourinho in the English Premier League.
No one expected him to do a half-decent impression of his oldest rival instead.
Bickering with officials, offering an insincere apology for two red cards and tactical stubbornness: it's like listening to a DJ play Mourinho's greatest hits.
But the defensive dogma must concern Manchester City supporters most.
It could conceivably cost the club a shot at the title.
Just as Mourinho is accused of being a slave to the 4-2-3-1, Guardiola appears fiercely loyal to a back three that isn't working.
Without a midfield shield to compare with Chelsea's indomitable enforcer N'Golo Kante, City's defence was overrun again.
Guardiola's attempts to focus on his side's missed opportunities and dubious refereeing decisions cannot mask his tactical intransigence.
A coach renowned for his eagerness to evolve and adapt at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich seems unable to counter the counter-attack.
On two occasions, Chelsea's rampant forwards exploded out of central midfield like cannonballs obliterating skittles.
It's a common tale after weeks of calamitous defending.
It’s not enough. In the box, we are not strong enough. It is part of the process. Keep fighting, keep going, improve our mistakes. But I don’t have regrets.Man City manager pep Guardiola
A back three of Aleksandar Kolarov, now 31 and not renowned for his central defensive abilities, John Stones and the erratic Nicolas Otamendi have spent too much time in retreat.
City have managed just two clean sheets all season in the Premier League, which isn't yet a crisis for a club averaging more than two goals a game.
But, whenever Guardiola's gamblers have come up against resolute defences, as they did with Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona and now Chelsea, their bluff was called.
Indeed the Tottenham defeat was the real turning point.
Spurs' early blitzkrieg exposed the gaps and left City embarrassingly exposed.
But that trip to White Hart Lane was on Oct 2. Guardiola has had two months to mind the gap, but City are still tripping up. They haven't kept a clean sheet in the league since.
As Chelsea embarked upon an eight-match winning streak, conceding just two goals, City's deficiencies were exploited by the minnows of Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Burnley.
A couple of dodgy decisions from the referee provided a handy smokescreen, but City's 3-1 defeat by Chelsea was two months in the making.
So Guardiola must tinker and quickly.
Whether he resorts to a back four, or reunites Fernando and Fernandinho so that two midfield anchors can do the babysitting job that one Kante does at Chelsea, is a matter for debate. But he's got to do something.
What's worse, he must address the flaw in his master plan without Sergio Aguero and presumably Fernandinho, too, after their loutish behaviour at the weekend.
But then, it's Guardiola's master plan rather than the defensive flaw that is a growing cause for concern.
Antonio Conte switched to a back three because the formation made the most of available resources. Guardiola switched to a back three simply because he wanted a back three, irrespective of his available resources.
Just as he wanted a quarterback-kicking goalkeeper, even though Claudio Bravo's actual ability to save the odd shot continues to be called into question.
Despite the fact that every side from Everton to Southampton have eagerly pointed out City's shortcomings, Guardiola has opted for selective deafness.
But even he must have heard the booing at the Eithad.
Perhaps the restless natives were raging against the bumbling officials. Or maybe they were railing against a lethargic line-up and a three-man defence that revealed more space than a Star Wars movie.
Guardiola must fix his failing system. Or City's opponents will enjoy a turkey shoot over Christmas.