Manchester City are once again playing with the attacking flow of a Pep Guardiola team. Scoring goals at will to compensate for their openness defensively. They defeated a strong Huddersfield team on Wednesday night to progress into the next round of the FA Cup. While still competing on three fronts and with a top four Premier League finish far from guaranteed, Guardiola’s first campaign in England is still in the balance.
Avoiding an unexpectedly heavy defeat in Monaco will see them reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League and winning their game in hand in the Premier League will take them back to second in the table. Its not looking so bad for City all of a sudden, after a troubled start to the winter months that saw them drop off the pace domestically and get knocked out of the EFL Cup – albeit while fielding a severely weakened side.
As favourites for the league title at the start of the season, this campaign is not going to live up to the highest of expectations. As good as Guardiola’s side have been at periods, poor recruitment over previous seasons still weighs heavily on their performances, and this must be addressed in the summer. Considering the mistakes of previous managers and the most obvious of all, the howler in putting all their faith in Claudio Bravo in between the sticks, City are doing well.
Gabriel Jesus will be fully fit next season, but for the remainder of this campaign Guardiola must lean on an attack that will leave almost every manager in world football envious. Sergio Aguero is hungrier than ever having lost his place as a regular starter, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva are pulling the strings while Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling fly up the flanks leaving full-backs dizzied and incapable to stop them. That attack sounds great and it is only getting better as they gel and Guardiola finds the balance to bring the best out of each of them.
Is this attack good enough to make up for the inevitable defensive calamities? It was against Monaco, it did enough against Huddersfield, but it is against their Premier League top six rivals and sturdier European defences where it will be really challenged.
Given the squad at their manager’s disposal, City are on the right path. The arrival of a manager as decorated as Guardiola was naturally going to heighten expectations and that, along with some disappointing performances from individual players, has made 2016/17 seem like a poor showing. In reality, this is a squad that still needs rebuilding and the defensive foundations of that rebuild are past their best and ill-equipped to play Guardiola’s style of football. He will not adapt, rightly or wrongly, so only with shrewd summer recruitment can Manchester City change their fortunes for next season.
Next season will be the year where a title is demanded of Guardiola, for now, though, lifting the FA Cup, a top four finish and a run into the latter stages of the Champions League will suffice.
City could yet win a treble this season. However unlikely, the fact they remain in contention shows just how devastating they should be come August.