When Manchester City won the 2017/18 Premier League title they were the first champions since Chelsea’s 2009/10 triumph to score more than 100 goals in one season (106 for City, 103 for Chelsea respectively).
This season, Pep Guardiola has led his team to an impressive goal difference of +79, conceding just 27 league goals. Manchester City would beat Liverpool by just one point to retain the title next season. Despite not reaching the highs before, the 2018/19 City side still managed to score 95 goals while conceding just 23 goals, once again becoming champions with a difference of +72 goals.
Looking at City now, it’s hard to see a great resemblance to these scintillating teams.
So far this season, there hasn’t been a smooth football and goals for fun that Guardiola has transformed the Sky Blues into. In fact, what has been seen is an evolution to a completely different style of play.
In the 14 league games played this season, City have managed 21 goals while conceding 12. This represents a ratio of 1.5 goals for and 0.85 goals against per game. Compare that to past seasons 2.64 goals for and 1.14 goals against at the same stage of the season, and you can see major drops in numbers at both ends of the pitch.
This season has seen City tighten up considerably at the back. In the last 15 games in all competitions, City have kept 11 clean sheets, conceding just six goals. Ederson and company
leaves goals at an insanely low rate of 0.4 per game.
But what does all this mean? Why has there been a shift to a defensive mindset?
After losing 2-0 to Tottenham in November, Guardiola imposed a tactical change. His decision to start games with two defensive midfielders was taken to help stabilize the team. The Citizens have since become the white sheet specialists, becoming the best defense in the league. Without the double protection of Rodri and İlkay Gündoğan, there is no way for City to climb the table so steadily.
With their front row of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus missing huge pieces of the season, Pep’s side have had to change the way they play. Ferran Torres and Raheem Sterling took turns leading the team, but with limited success. Playing without a specialist striker as a focal point, City therefore had to make sure to stay tight at the back.
In turn, this led to the club’s performances getting a bit boring. Yes, the results have been good and clean sheets are always welcome, but the way City play now has finally lost the shine it once had.
The win over Newcastle on Boxing Day saw City complete a matchday in European position (albeit in the Europa League). Guardiola will not care at all about the current performance of his City side. The agenda is to get back into the title race, and if that requires boring 2-0 home wins, so be it.
However, by the 2021 return of the Champions League, it will be interesting to see if Guardiola sticks to his new 4-2-3-1. Having often left Champions League knockout games too open, ultimately leading to City exits, this new roster may be the perfect setup to guide City into the depths of the competition.
Until then, City can be expected to continue producing clean sheets and low scoring wins.