Manchester City are on an inconsistent run of form, but their payers have outlined how they plan to get back to winning ways.
Despite two losses on the bounce, and only two wins from five, there has been no finger pointing at Manchester City in the wake of their derby defeat.
City know their performances haven’t been good enough on the whole so far in January, and they also know that if improvements aren’t made then any remaining hopes of catching Arsenal in the Premier League will be gone before results start to improve.
It could be easy for the City defenders to feel that their attacking colleagues are falling short with only one occasion in the last five outings seeing the Blues score more than one goal. The attackers could turn around and point to defensive mistakes in each of the three recent games where they have dropped points.
Refreshingly, though, there has been no such split when the players and manager Pep Guardiola have spoken to the media this week. Instead, there has been an acknowledgement that City’s current drop from their incredibly high standards is a collective issue, and will be solved through a collective solution.
By listening to the players, there are there areas that can be quickly addressed to spark an upturn in form.
Firstly, despite obvious and justified frustrations with the baffling decision to award Manchester United’s equaliser in the derby, defender Manuel Akanji pointed to another knock-on issue that caused the subsequent winner for the home side.
“After the 1-1 we’ve got to be clearer in the head,” he said. “We’ve got to defend for a couple of minutes to calm down and attack again. We didn’t do that today after the 1-1 and I hope we can improve on that in the next game.”
Centre-back colleague Nathan Ake added: “When they scored the first goal we have to learn from that moment and play the same and don’t start to change things… They scored and then we lost it.”
Fixing that mentality would go a long way to City embarking on a run to kick-start their season, knowing that not every game will go in their favour for the full 90 minutes. They could also look at the reaction to Southampton’s two first half goals in the Carabao Cup as reason to be ‘clearer’ in their minds when the opposition are on top.
Still, City will expect their defending to improve if they want to get back to winning ways. While Marcus Rashford was clearly offside in the build-up to Bruno Fernandes’ goal, they had no such excuses for the ease in which Alejandro Garnacho found an unmarked Rashford to seal three points for United. Or the defensive shambles that saw Southampton and Everton take positive results from the Blues.
“We’ve got to finish our attacks, defend together until the last minute and keep a clean sheet,” Akanji said. “I think in every game if we can keep a clean sheet our attackers are always capable of scoring a goal.
“If we don’t concede goals, we can make the most of the game – that’s the goal for the next game. There are still 20 games to go, there’s 60 points to get and hopefully we’ll get all of them.”
A sharper focus and more alert defending are related to each other, yet it’s still refreshing for City’s defenders to accept as much responsibility as their out-of-sorts attackers.
Guardiola, however, knows that being more creative and more clinical is a third area where City must improve quickly. He pointed to the supply for Erling Haaland – without a goal in three appearances now. City have mustered a measly one shot on target in their last two games, and the 4-0 FA Cup win over Chelsea is an anomaly in their post-Christmas form which otherwise stands at three outings with just one goal and another without scoring.
“We have to find [Haaland] a little bit more, yes,” Guardiola said at Old Trafford. “He had enough touches [against United] but it’s true that when you are looking at areas and you have to look at him. But we will do it.”
Guardiola preached that City’s whole squad are responsible for their attacking fortunes, along with their defensive record. Likewise, he has sent plenty of warnings in recent weeks that any player not willing to accept his rotation approach and buy into City’s push for the three remaining trophies on offer ‘will struggle to be with us.’ That ties into the mindset change that Ake and Akanji spoke about.
“We have experience, we know where we are, we know the team we are,” said midfielder Rodri on Saturday, saying he was ‘prouder than ever’ of his teammates, adding that they were determined to put things right on the training ground.
“Now it’s building – our way is to work every day and perform well. We’re not going to keep our heads down, we played a great game despite the result today. It’s part of football, we have to look at ourselves and not blame anyone.”