Monday 19 March 2018

City's dismal display gives Guardiola lots to think about

Vincent Kompany’s injury record may prompt Pep Guardiola to replace him Photo: Reuters
Vincent Kompany’s injury record may prompt Pep Guardiola to replace him Photo: Reuters

Mark Ogden

Manchester City's elimination from the Champions League by Real Madrid exposed the flaws which incoming manager Pep Guardiola must eradicate if the club are go further in the competition next season.

So how does the new man's in-tray look after the 1-0 defeat in the Bernabeu?

Make the club believe

One notable factor in City's two-legged semi-final defeat was the lack of conviction displayed by Manuel Pellegrini and his players.

Having defeated Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals to reach the last four, City should have been ready to look Zinedine Zidane's Real in the eye.

Instead, they adopted safety-first tactics.

As a club, from the supporters through to the players, City do not stride the Champions League stage like the heavyweight that they have become.

Guardiola, having won two Champions Leagues with Barcelona, will raise the bar of expectancy and demand that everyone at the club views the competition as he does.

He will be determined to make the players believe, rather than hope, and ensure that a semi-final is regarded as a stopping off point to the final, rather than an opportunity for the players to fly out their wives and children on the team flight.

If the WAGs and kids must join the party, save it for the final and make sure that the focus stays firmly on the business of winning silverware.

Vincent Kompany - stay or go?

There is nothing that Guardiola will want more than a fully-fit Vincent Kompany leading his team from the heart of City's back four.

But, with the Belgian lasting just six minutes of the second leg in the Bernabeu before succumbing to yet another injury, how can he be relied upon to stay fit next season and beyond?

As he trudged off the pitch, it emerged that Kompany had just suffered the 33rd injury of his City career since arriving from Hamburg in August 2008.

Some of those injuries have been mild tweaks, little more than one-game absences, but Kompany has increasingly suffered lengthy lay-offs in recent seasons as the muscle problems have begun to mount.

At his best, he remains of the world's leading defenders, but Kompany has limped out of two Champions League knock-out ties in the early stages - he also succumbed to injury in the second-leg of the last 16 tie against Dynamo Kiev - and Guardiola will be alarmed by his continued frailty.

It would be a big call, but the new City manager may have to decide to dispense with Kompany and look to the future because a defence built around an injury-prone player is one with its foundations rooted in sand.

Re-energise the squad

The likes of Kompany, David Silva and Yaya Toure have earned their status as blue-chip City legends with their feats during the club's rise to prominence under Abu Dhabi ownership, but do they have the energy and stomach to be part of the new era?

Similar questions could be asked of Aleksandar Kolarov, Pablo Zabaleta and Jesus Navas, while Wilfried Bony has fallen so far off the radar that the £25m signing from Swansea just 18 months ago that it would be a huge surprise if he was to have any future under Guardiola.

Toure's performance in the Bernabeu was in keeping with his contribution throughout this season in that he failed to make a difference and looked uninterested until being replaced.

Such is Guardiola's demand for high-intensity football, Toure is surely already a condemned man and Silva - now 30 and with persistent ankle problems - may also be on the way out despite his undoubted class.

This is a squad which has served City so well over the years, but it is in need of new blood from back to front.

Guardiola needs to add legs and flair in midfield - a Toni Kroos would transform the team - and inject similar energy at the back. But, most of all, hunger and desire need to restored to the squad.

Make Aguero feared in Europe

Sergio Aguero is Manchester City's all-time leading goalscorer in Europe, but the Argentinian is increasingly a peripheral figure in the biggest games.

With the exception of a group stage hat-trick against Bayern Munich last season, he has fallen short when it matters most against Europe's elite and, after another blank against Real Madrid, he has gone five Champions League games without a shot on target.

Another concern is that, against Real, he mustered only 52 touches of the ball in 90 minutes - and none of them were in the penalty area.

There are no question marks over the 27-year-old's finishing ability, which he has proven year after year in the Premier League, but City are not getting the best from him in the Champions League.

Guardiola must devise a strategy to ensure that Aguero is given the service he requires, otherwise City will possess a fearsome weapon, yet leave it largely impotent.

Take youngsters to the next level

City looked ahead to the future last summer by investing over £100m in Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling. Twelve months earlier, the club made a similar long-term acquisition by lavishing £42m on Eliaquim Mangala.

But while De Bruyne has been hugely impressive this season, Sterling and Mangala have failed to justify their price tags and both now appear to be at the stage of their development where they require intensive coaching to ensure they fulfil their obvious potential.

There is still work to be done with De Bruyne, who showed his inexperience in the Bernabeu with too many stray passes and ill-timed forays forwards, but it is nothing more than smoothing off some rough edges.

Sterling needs to be taken back to the player who almost helped Liverpool win the Premier League title in 2013-14, the audacious, pacy winger with the ability to make a crucial difference in the final third.

The reality for the England international is that his progress has stalled for two successive season, so Guardiola must spend time with him on the training ground to channel his ability and make him a better player.

As for Mangala, the French centre-half possesses exceptional athletic ability and pace, but his concentration levels are worryingly low.

Guardiola was able to eradicate similar flaws in Gerard Pique's game at Barcelona, though, and Mangala is still young enough to be steered in the right direction. (© Independent News Service)

Kompany set for euros despite injury

Vincent Kompany will miss Manchester City’s final two Premier League games after being told he faces up to a month on the sidelines with the groin injury sustained against Real Madrid.

However, the City captain, who lasted just six minutes of the second-leg,  is expected to be fit to lead Belgium in Euro 2016 – they meet Ireland in a Group E qualifier in Bordeaux on June 18.

Kompany’s absence will force manager Manuel Pellegrini to retain Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi at centre-half against Arsenal on Sunday – a match which could prove pivotal for City’s hopes of securing Champions League qualification with a top four finish.

If Manchester United and / or West Ham win their respective fixtures against Norwich City and Swansea City on Saturday, City must defeat Arsenal to ensure that they remain in control of their top four destiny going into the final weekend of the season.

Irish Independent

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