Sunday 21 January 2018

John Giles - Man City’s defensive issues could derail their bid for Premier League

Read John Giles every week in The Herald

Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola
John Giles

John Giles

FOR those who would anoint Pep Guardiola as the most likely winner of the title, I would urge caution. Inconsistency in defence is the theme of the season so far and Manchester City are not immune to that failing.

Nor indeed are Manchester United who were run very close by Everton on Sunday but at least Jose Mourinho pays attention to his defenders.

Guardiola (right) only sees how his players can score goals and like many managers these days, pays little enough attention to stopping the opposition scoring.

City are fantastic to watch going forward but I have a sharp memory of the opening blows in their big win over Liverpool and had Jurgen Klopp’s very dangerous strike force been in form, that game might easily have turned a different way.

That tells me that against better teams with a decent range of attacking options, City could well struggle so I think we should all reserve judgement until we see Guardiola’s team develop in the coming months.

I do feel that City are on a run now and have gathered important momentum and that the protagonists for the title will be the two Manchester clubs.

I didn’t like what I saw of Chelsea in the 0-0 draw with Arsenal. The game exposed worrying  details, not least David Luiz’s return to madcap ways and a notably prickly performance from Cesc Fabregas.

What you see on the pitch reflects what’s happening in the background and while I gave a qualified judgement a few weeks back that Antonio Conte seems to have accepted his lot and is keen to knuckle down to his job, I think there are signs that Chelsea are feeling some strain.

Luiz lost his discipline against Arsenal and as he has so often done in the past but the great achievement for Conte last season was to somehow contain his wilder side within a defensive set-up which won them the title while rivals leaked goals.

Fabregas has always been fond of a moan but he was in overdrive against Arsenal. He looked much as he did during the months when Jose Mourinho’s second spell at Stamford Bridge was coming to an ignominious close and that surprised me.

There is no way to know for certain but it looks to me as if Conte’s authority has perhaps been diminished by his experience during the summer and that could be what we are seeing in Chelsea’s performances.

Sharp-eyed readers might have noticed something about Arsenal’s team selection for the draw with their London rivals. No Theo Walcott, no Mesut Ozil and obviously enough, no Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.

It’s a long time since I’ve seen an Arsenal team play with such a good balance between defence and attack but it was also a performance full of honest effort and commitment.

In the final week of the transfer window and with Wenger under ferocious pressure, the talk was that that he would do well to hang on to players like Ozil. The common wisdom held was that a player of his stature wouldn’t want to play for the Gunners any more.

I laughed at that. I reckoned that Arsene Wenger would do himself a big favour if he cleaned out his squad and I named the three lads above as priority transfers out.

As I have always said, the best way to view the internal workings of a club for an outsider is by what you see on the pitch. When Arsenal hit rock bottom against Liverpool a few weeks back and Ozil was at the heart of the collapse, the solution seemed obvious to me. Sell him.

With three problem players absent, Arsenal’s attitude to their football was much more positive against Chelsea than at any other time since the campaign began and if I was a Gunners’ fan, I would be very heartened by that.

Wenger has had a torrid time of it and I was glad to see his players respond and particularly happy to see them do well defensively.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that Wenger has solved his problems but at least he had men on the field who wanted to be there, with the possible exception of Alexis Sanchez who clearly wants to be somewhere else.

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