Unstable defence a cause for concern for Pep Guardiola

At one end of the pitch, City have been elegantly unstoppable but at the other, it hasn’t quite clicked.

Pep Guardiola has tinkered, rotated and experimented in his defence but after four months of testing, he is yet to find its identity.

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Of course, City are in transition – any team would be with a new manager as perfectionist as Guardiola – and the defence is arguably in the biggest part of this transition. With Joe Hart out of the country, the lads at the back have been forced to adapt to Claudio Bravo’s style of play, Vincent Kompany’s injury woes have left them without a recognised leader and ageing full-backs have been a growing issue for some time. Mix all that with a constantly changing defensive set-up and you get instability. Astonishingly, City have yet to field the exact same defence in consecutive weeks since the start of the season.

This year, City have only managed to keep five clean-sheets under Guardiola and only two of them have come in the league. With more goals leaked than Chelsea and Spurs, a lack of consistent personnel has been a real issue. Discounting weakened sides in the EFL Cup and Champions League qualifiers, from 18 games City have started with different variations of defenders 12 times – using back three formations three times and the more traditional back four 15 times.

From Fernando to Kompany, you can never predict who will play in City’s defence and while versatility is seen as an advantage, it really shouldn’t be switched up as much as it is at the back. Appearing more than any other defender, Aleksandar Kolarov has been Guardiola’s go to guy – his ability to play in two positions clearly playing a big part. A combination of the Serb, Pablo Zabaleta, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones is also statistically Guardiola’s preferred defence and has featured in City’s most difficult games this season at Barcelona, Tottenham and Borussia Monchengladbach.

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In fairness, Guardiola has been encouraged to use his full squad more generously with the unforgiving fixture congestion City have had over the last few months. However, with mid-week European nights at the back of his mind for some time, Guardiola can now concentrate on the league.

“We have qualification in the pocket until February, so now we can focus finally on one competition, the Premier League,” he said after a 1-1 draw in Germany last Wednesday gave City guaranteed progression to the last 16 of the Champions League.

It’s most likely that the defence we have now will be dramatically different after a couple of transfer windows under the Catalan anyway. Recently, City have missed out on Leonardo Bonucci and Aymeric Laporte but links to other players are still circling and new rumours will continue to develop. For now though, Guardiola needs to figure out how he can best use the players he already has at his disposal.

City need to tighten up and the quicker they do, the better their chances of a third Premier League success become. Whatever number of defenders he plays and however he uses them, improving the defence should be one of Guardiola’s top priorities now because a title winning side must be able to rely on a solid foundation to build on.

Written by James Cunliffe

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