Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has a lot to deal with. His team had a terrible afternoon against Leicester City on Sunday and it was as poor as I have seen them play in a long time.
It was more than the fact that they had conceded bad goals – what was really worrying was how lost they looked from front to back.
When things have gone badly for City under Pep in the past, it has been easy to criticize their defense for being unable to cope with counterattacks or for making individual mistakes.
We’ve seen those two things happen again against Leicester, but I think the whole team has to take responsibility for this loss – not just their defenders.
The players in front of them didn’t put enough pressure on the ball and got played too easily. They didn’t stay with the runners or go up to the ball.
That, along with the fact that they seemed incapable of creating any chances when they showed up, was the worst thing about performance, and the most different from what we’re used to seeing from them. .
Why were City running out of ideas?
City were without injured forwards Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, both of whom could be out for several weeks.
Being without a recognized striker on Sunday was obviously going to be a problem, but it was the ripple effect of managing what had a bigger impact on their performance.
Pep usually starts with a single pivot as part of a 4-3-3 but, with the players he had available, he went with two midfielders in Fernandinho and Rodri and moved Kevin de Bruyne to one position plus number 10, behind Raheem. Sterling who played as a central striker.
Sterling is much more dangerous when stepping in from the left and De Bruyne is generally at his best when he can descend from the right – a right cross rather than a wide right – and put his trademark crosses.
We saw the Belgian do that a bit in the second half, but before the break everything was central and he couldn’t really influence the game like he usually does.
In addition, Phil Foden has stayed wide on the left rather than the middle, where he sees more ball and is more efficient.
So arguably City had three, four or even five players out of position – or at least not playing in their best position – and, on top of that, their full-backs never offered anything in flank attack. .
No wonder they are so short on ideas.
“The city did not protect their four backs either”
City’s difficulties in attack were compounded by their mistakes at the back. The three penalties they conceded were also very similar.
Each time they let the Leicester player get on the wrong side of them inside the zone and then gave a clumsy challenge.
It’s just basic defense, but the gaps between each member of the back four were too big and there was a lack of communication.
It looked like a rear four that had never played together before – which it was – but it also looked like a rear four that lacked experience – which it sure wasn’t.
That was only half the problem though, as the protection wasn’t there in front of them either. For all the great football that we’re used to seeing at City playing under Pep, they’ve always been one of the best pressing teams.
Usually they don’t give you a second on the ball, even when you’re deep in your own half. On Sunday, however, they let Leicester get over them far too easily.
This was especially noticeable when Fernandinho left at the start of the second half. I can understand why Pep decided to bring in a well-known striker in teenage Liam Delap, but it left his team way too open.
City had dominated possession in the first half but there were times in the second half when they were all over the place, even when they weren’t outnumbered on Leicester’s counterattacks.
Leicester’s game plan was perfect
As bad as Manchester City is, Leicester deserve a lot of credit because their game plan worked perfectly.
Jamie Vardy not only got his hat-trick, he backed off and stopped Rodri from getting on the ball to build attacks and left City’s two middle halves to get the ball.
Leicester’s two central midfielders Youri Tielemans and Nampalys Mendy were fantastic – aggressive and tenacious in the tackle, but also showed great quality on the ball when they sought to launch a counterattack.
At the back, Jonny Evans and Calgary Soyuncu are a premier center-back duo – as good as anyone else in the Premier League.
If you compare them to what Pep has, they would start for his team, no doubt.
They starred in a threesome with Daniel Amartey at the Etihad Stadium, but Evans ‘return after his suspension played a major role in the Foxes’ success. He was all Manchester City lacked – a leader, a talker and a good player too.
It seems Pep sees Benfica center-half Ruben Dias as the answer to his side’s problems there, with him and Aymeric Laporte becoming City’s first-choice center-back pair.
Whoever they bring in, City will need to improve ahead of them as well.
It doesn’t matter who your defenders are – if you keep letting attacking players like Vardy and Harvey Barnes stand up for you, they’re going to get you in trouble.
Darren Fletcher was talking to Chris Bevan of BBC Sport.