Ghana's No. 1

‘Misfiring Man City do not need complete redesign'

Published on: 05 February 2023

Manchester City's defeat at Tottenham Hotspur was a disappointing result for Pep Guardiola's side but I don't think it means the defending champions need a complete redesign.

The biggest reason City lost was their lack of creativity, and when your number nine - especially someone as deadly as Erling Haaland - does not have a shot at goal in the entire game, then of course you have to question what went wrong.

It must have been even more frustrating for them to lose in north London because Arsenal's defeat by Everton on Saturday was the first sense of the door being left slightly ajar in the title race, and City's response saw them come away with nothing the following day.

But before everyone criticises Guardiola, and says what he might have done differently, let's remember that City have played worse than that this season and still got something from the game.

I am not trying to play down the significance or even the manner of this defeat, but there are a few reasons I'd be far more concerned if it had come against a team other than Spurs.

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Why do City struggle at Spurs?

City have won the Premier League title in four of the past five seasons but their record at Tottenham's new stadium during that time is awful - played five, lost five, with zero goals scored.

When you break down why they have consistently struggled there, you have to start with their style of play - the way City usually play, high up the pitch, suits Spurs because it allows them to sit deep and break forward, and in players like Harry Kane and Son Heung-min they have exactly the right weapons to make those moments count.

Spurs' goal on Sunday came in a different way, which was similar to their first goal at Etihad Stadium last month - it was their press that put City in trouble when they tried to play out from the back, and Harry Kane pounced.

We all saw what happened next at the Etihad in January, when City actually trailed 2-0 at half-time, but came out and overwhelmed Spurs in the second half to win 4-2.

But it is very different when you are away from home, and fall behind at a stadium where more than 50,000 fans are all against you, and they are all fired up too.

Some of the moments where you think you are applying pressure don't carry the same weight, and you also cannot inject tempo into the game as easily. The crowd are not going to react like your own fans do when their side try to slow things down, which Spurs did very cleverly on Sunday after they went ahead.

And, because of the threat Spurs still posed on the counter-attack, it was not a case of just being open and expansive and throwing bodies forward either.

City defender Kyle Walker made that point after the game when he talked about what it was like trying to break down the Spurs back line.

You want to over-commit because you are desperate for the equaliser, but the Tottenham front three is a constant danger, so that has to be at the back of your mind. It turns into a game of cat and mouse, looking forward but thinking about what is behind you too.

City still created some chances but in the circumstances they had to be clinical, and they weren't.

They got better in the second half, and looked more dangerous when Kevin de Bruyne came on, but Spurs raised their game too - they defended very well, and again there was no way through.

City look more human now

City have not played as well this season as they have done in previous campaigns under Guardiola, but you have to remember they had reached a level of near perfection for most of that time.

Along with Liverpool they were hitting 90-plus points in a season, which set an almost unrealistic standard about what is needed to compete for the title.

Now? Most of City's squad are not playing at their best and as a team they definitely look more human but, unlike Jurgen Klopp's side, they are still finding a way to be competitive at the top of the table.

In past seasons, before you needed to be absolutely flawless to win the league, I would look at how title races were decided and say that part of what champions are made of is being a side who can find a way to win even when they are not playing well.

I'd argue City have still managed to do that to a certain extent this season, which is why they are just about afloat and still have a chance to defend their title, even if that looks like a difficult task from here.

How can City get their mojo back?City's defeat at Spurs was the first game Erling Haaland has had for the club where he has failed to have a shot at goal. The Norwegian has scored 25 goals in 20 Premier League games, and 31 goals in 27 games in all competitions

City are chasing a team who have been very good for the majority of the season but we still know what Guardiola's players are capable of, which is the main reason no-one has written them off.

Still, if City are going to find their old fluidity and challenge Arsenal over the next few months, then it's clear some of their individuals will have to find much better form.

They also need to find a way of bringing Haaland into the game more. He can't be a game-changer if they cannot create chances for him.

On Sunday, he made plenty of runs, but the passes either weren't played at the right time or did not come at all.

It is not just down to them finding Haaland, though. If I think about playing against Guardiola's City teams, then I know how hard it usually is to stop them.

As an opposition defender, you don't enjoy being asked to run back to goal at full speed because City's players are making runs behind you, and balls are being played into spaces.

I might be off the mark, because I don't know what Guardiola's plan is, but when I watch them that is the biggest thing that feels like it is missing at the moment.

It is even more obvious when City face a team like Tottenham because, even though Spurs did not have anywhere near as many attacks, they always felt far more dangerous when they came forward.

While that keeps happening, it is encouraging for all of City's rivals - especially Arsenal.

Nedum Onuoha was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

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