Manchester City’s title race is over.
They are simply conceding too many goals. City only have four clean sheets this season and have shipped four goals against Everton and against Leicester in the last five weeks. 10 points isn’t insurmountable, but the way City are going compared to Chelsea is polar opposite. City would need an eight or nine game winning run to make a significant dent in that gap and it’s hard to see that happening at this stage.
At Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Pep Guardiola didn’t need to necessarily have the best defence because they were so dominant. During his time at Barca he had Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andre Iniesta and more. They would simply blow teams away, and while the defence was good it never had to be great. In the Premier League you cannot win the title by having a weak defence and simply trying to score loads of goals.
Joe Hart is a Premier League winning keeper, and you don’t win this league with a bad goalie. Hart has plenty of credentials, and the manager has to bring in a replacement of international quality if he wants to replace him. Instead he brought Claudio Bravo who has been instantly found out.
Guardiola wants to play his keeper more like a sweeper. He wants a goalkeeper who is agile, quick on his feet, and good with the ball, yet he’s brought in a 33-year-old with no Premier League experience who simply isn’t good enough between the sticks. Victor Valdes and Manuel Neuer would play 25 yards off their goal line, but Bravo can’t do that.
It’s not much better in front of Bravo. Nicolas Otamendi is a myth. Who knows how Valencia were able to charge £28.5m for him. John Stones is a talented player but he is too young to lead the line. He needs to play alongside a centre-back who has that league maturity and confidence. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic or John Terry are the kind of leaders he needs alongside him in order to develop and improve.
Compare that to Tottenham’s team which is built on a great defence and has a fantastic balance through the squad. The way Manuel Pochettino has his team playing is phenomenal. At the start of the season I didn’t think they had the strength and depth to compete with the top teams in the league and play European football. But Pochettino has based his team on solid foundations. Spurs have kept nine clean sheets this season and conceded the fewest goals of any top flight side.
In the last six games they’ve scored 19 goals and conceded just three, dismantling teams on the way – including Chelsea. They’ve been hugely impressive. I am not a big fan of Tottenham and earlier in the season I even said they were overrated. But if they keep playing the way they are I may have to hold my hands up!
For Guardiola, now he has to decide whether to continue with his style of play. It is not possible in the Premier League to play out from the back all the time. City have given away silly goals and conceded needless opportunities. They try to play in areas that aren’t possible in the Premier League because it is quicker and more physical than in Spain or Germany. You get less time on the ball in England.
The question remains will, or rather can Pep Guardiola adapt his philosophy?