Guardiola philosophy neglects defence - Dunne
Ireland legend hails City's attacking verve but blames manager for shaky rearguard
A stalwart of Manchester City's back-line for almost a decade, Richard Dunne knows a thing or two about successful defences.
And, despite being impressed with the overall impact made by manager Pep Guardiola, the former City skipper believes there is a lot of work to be done at the back before the team can reach the next level.
Today City travel to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup quarter-finals, the best hope of silverware for the club with Chelsea ten points clear atop the Premier League and a maiden Champions League success still possible, albeit extremely unlikely.
And Ireland legend Dunne, who made over 350 appearances for the club, believes that Guardiola's expansive, attacking philosophy has left the team vulnerable to being hit on the break.
"City's defence has looked poor this season and the number of different defensive partnerships Guardiola has used won't have helped," Dunne says.
"It's very difficult to build solid defensive partnerships - it is something that takes a lot of time as you need to get into a routine and build trust.
"I think that one of the down-sides of Guardiola's philosophy is that the defensive side of things can become neglected.
"The full-backs are pushed so far forward at times that they are left completely isolated. Vincent Kompany would possibly be able to cope with that if he was fit, but at the moment City are left with someone needing to take control.
"It is great being able to play the ball out from the back, of course, but sometimes it takes somebody just sticking it down the other end of the pitch. We used to have a saying: If in doubt, stick it out."
While Guardiola's philosophy undoubtedly makes life harder for his defensive players, Dunne doesn't believe the Spaniard's tactical preferences are solely to blame for City's woes at the back.
As he notes, in Guardiola's four seasons at Barcelona and three at Bayern Munich, his side always boasted the best defensive record in the league.
Fast-forward to this campaign and City have only conceded one goal fewer than today's FA Cup opponents, who sit 18th in the league. So is there another reason for City's defensive problems?
"In the end you have to ask yourself, is it City's players?" Dunne adds. "Their defenders have struggled at times, and the situation with Claudio Bravo hasn't helped.
"In fact I can see Guardiola bringing Bravo back in for the FA Cup match because he really needs to regain some confidence so that he can finish the season strongly. He needs to build his relationship with City's defenders because that has looked very poor and the defence hasn't often looked like it has any confidence in him.
"He is a work in progress, as are the whole team at this point. Every match they go out looking like they could score 10 goals, but they also look like they could concede a lot, too. And it's hard to know whether that is the fault of the players or something to do with the Guardiola philosophy."
Dunne certainly thinks that City's level of firepower will be enough to see off Middlesbrough. When these two sides met early in the season in the Premier League, Middlesbrough somehow escaped with a 1-1 draw despite enjoying just 29pc possession and having 20 fewer shots on goal than their opponents.
But the Dubliner has backed his former club to rediscover their scoring touch after their disappointing midweek draw against Stoke, to compound Boro's problems.
"I think it will be a similar game to the earlier Premier League match - with City having a lot of the ball and having a lot of chances - but I think City will get through it," he said. "Middlesbrough have bigger things to worry about and are preoccupied with their relegation battle, so everything seems to point towards a City win.
"Guardiola has also been putting out some really strong sides for the FA Cup so City will be at their best."
Any hopes of City overhauling Chelsea at the top of the league table may have now faded, with Guardiola's men ten points behind Antonio Conte's team with just 11 matches remaining, but the FA Cup still offers Guardiola a realistic shot at silverware in his first season in England.
Guardiola has never gone a season without winning a trophy and landed the treble in his first season at Barcelona, as well as the domestic double in his first year in the Bundesliga.
Nevertheless, winning the FA Cup and guaranteeing Champions League football for next season would constitute a successful debut season at City, according to Dunne.
"For Guardiola to end the season with a Cup would be brilliant," he says. "The style of play has really improved over the past month or two and I think that is a sign that his philosophy is really starting to be picked up by the players.
"The Premier League is so competitive, there are six very competitive teams, which makes it a lot more difficult to win than other divisions in Europe. So the FA Cup would be a good return for Guardiola in his first season." (© Independent News Service)
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