Do Man City's problems offer only false hope to title rivals?

4 Dec 2023
Pep Guardiola reacts to Spurs

Champions' early-season poor form is not a first but history shows the powers of their recovery

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Are Manchester City in crisis, or is this another false dawn of hope for their title rivals as they suffer an early-season stumble once more before hitting their stride when it matters and marching on to a fourth successive Premier League title?

Certainly, their form on the pitch is not great.

Only once before have Pep Guardiola’s City played out three consecutive draws as they have this season.

The last time was in March-April 2017 (v Stoke City, Liverpool and Arsenal) in the Spaniard’s first season in charge.

But what marks out these three most recent draws is that each time, Man City claimed only a point despite being in a winning position.

It is the first time they have dropped points from leading positions in three consecutive matches under Guardiola.

Certainly, they have been struggling in the final third of matches this season, showing a greater vulnerability than in the opening hour.

They have faced more shots per minute in the final half-hour, while 10 of their 16 goals conceded have happened in the final 30 minutes of matches.

Period Shots faced xG conceded Goals conceded
1-60min 60 6.9 6
61min-Full-time 48 5.7 10

As a result they have taken a mere 12 points from their last eight Premier League matches. Only once did they claim fewer over an eight-game period under Guardiola, which was 11 across that same March-April period in 2017 when they drew three times in a row.

It could get worse as the champions travel on Wednesday night to fortress Villa Park, where Aston Villa are on a 13-match winning run in the Premier League.

City go there without Rodri and Jack Grealish, who are both suspended for five yellow cards, and possibly the injured Jeremy Doku.

The absence of Rodri is set to be keenly felt. City have lost both league matches where he has been absent, most notably to Arsenal this season.

Their win percentage drops from 73.3 per cent with the Spanish midfielder to 56.2 per cent without him.

Man City with & without Rodri
With   Without
150 Matches 16
110 Wins 9
21 Draws 1
19 Losses 6
380 Goals for 34
2.5 Ave. goals for 2.1
125 Goals against 17
0.8 Ave. goals against 1.1
73.30% Win per cent 56.20%
2.3 Points/match 1.8

But we have been here before where City have stumbled then recovered to an imperious level.

They have not been top of the table at this stage of a season since 2018, yet have claimed four titles in that period.

The stats confirm that Man City are familiar with having an early-season blip, followed by a storming second half of the campaign.

Only in three others seasons under Guardiola have City claimed as few points as their current total of 30 after the first 14 matches of a season.

And only in his first title-winning season did Man City have a better record in their opening 14 matches, as opposed to the middle 10-match period or final 14 fixtures.

In the four other victorious seasons, a strong middle period or finish have driven City to the title.   

Man City's points/match under Guardiola
Season MW1-14 MW15-28 MW29-38 Final position
2016/17 2.14 1.90 2.07 3
2017/18 2.86 2.50 2.50 1
2018/19 2.71 1.80 3.00 1
2019/20 2.07 2.20 2.14 2
2020/21 1.86 3.00 2.14 1
2021/22 2.29 2.80 2.36 1
2022/23 2.29 2.00 2.64 1
2023/24 2.14 - - ?

Three of their five title-winning seasons have come after a winning run of more than 10 matches that started in the second half of the season - 15 matches from 3 February 2019; 15 matches from 19 December 2020 and 12 matches from 25 February 2023. 

Furthermore, this season they have missed the injured John Stones, who seems to have become a vital member of the team in his hybrid central-defence/holding midfielder role.

City have won all four of the Premier League matches Stones has started, scoring 14 goals and conceding only two.

Stones looks set to return at Villa Park, having been on the bench at home to Tottenham Hotspur, while Mateo Kovacic also came on in that fixture as part of his return to first-team action, and could replace Rodri in the central midfield role.

Looking further ahead, it’s easy to forget that Kevin De Bruyne has been missing nearly all season. City will be a different team once he returns.

Furthermore, after the Villa match, City's run of fixtures become much kinder, facing only one team currently in the top nine through to the end of February.

Man City's kinder run
MW Opp MW Opp
16 LUT (A) 22 BUR (H)
17 CRY (H) 23 BRE (A)
18 - 24 EVE (H)
19 EVE (A) 25 CHE (H)
20 SHU (H) 26 BOU (A)
21 NEW (A)    

Certainly, in his press conference ahead of the Villa match, Guardiola did not seem too worried.

"My feeling today is we're going to win the Premier League," he said. "If we play at the levels that we showed against Liverpool and Tottenham, we're going to do it again - knowing that it is not easy."

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