Thursday 14 November 2019

Richard Dunne: 'The magic at Man City is starting to wear off - and there are a number of reasons why'

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will be desperate for a victory at Anfield on Sunday (Martin Rickett/PA)
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will be desperate for a victory at Anfield on Sunday (Martin Rickett/PA)
Richard Dunne

Richard Dunne

Pep Guardiola has always said that three years is enough in a job for him, that he and his teams work so hard that it’s difficult to sustain that for a long period.

And I wonder now if his City side are at the point where the magic that he brings has worn off a bit.

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It’s too extreme to say that City are jaded, it’s only November and still early in the season, but the fizz that you always associated with his City teams, with his teams in general, has gone out of them.

That could be down to the demands that Guardiola places on them, it might be down to the fact that they are lacking defenders and are not as secure at the back as in the past. There could be various reasons, but it’s not the same.

Pep works his teams really hard and City don’t seem to have that slick passing, that movement, you expect. The Premier League is no walk in the park. His City side, like Liverpool, are up there to be shot at every week and they are finding it difficult: maybe they are feeling the effects of being in every competition.

Pep stayed for four seasons at Barcelona, only three at Bayern Munich. And with the intensity that he works at it’s hard for players to keep up.

He has been amazing at City and they have played a kind of football we’ve not seen in the Premier League before. They set new standards, broke records, but their squad has not changed drastically under Pep and maybe the players are feeling the effects of his regime.

I wouldn’t read too much into their midweek games in the Champions League as City and Liverpool would both have had an eye on the Premier League game on Sunday. Liverpool, in particular, just wanted to get the Genk game out of the way and focus on the weekend.

It was a costly game for City as they lost Ederson to injury and we don’t know how long he’ll be out for.

Unlike Kyle Walker, I was never asked to go in goal in my playing career. In fact, I don’t think I was ever with a team where we needed an outfield player to play in goals, but I don’t think I’d have put my hand up if the manager needed someone. I think you’re in trouble if you put a centre half in goal, you need your central defenders out there protecting the 'keeper, not in goal.

I did see it happen, though. I played in the Merseyside derby in September 1999 when Steve Staunton had to go in goal for Liverpool after Sander Westerveld was sent off. I remember Stan pulling off a really good save to stop Nick Barmby from scoring.

Ederson will be a loss if he’s out for a while, especially when you look at his replacement as Claudio Bravo’s not that great.

Liverpool coped reasonably well when they were missing their first choice keeper for a spell.

They did concede goals but they had Virgil van Dijk at the back and he gave them that stability. City don’t have that, they don’t have the reliable centre back that they can call on and they might find it hard to cope without Ederson on Sunday.

The big concern for Liverpool, though, is that they’re not keeping clean sheets. I read that they have conceded the smallest number of shots on target over the season, so when teams do break them down they tend to score goals, which is a big worry.

They need to ask what’s wrong, why are they conceding goals so often. If they can work it out, see there is an issue and correct it, they can get back where they were in terms of being as defensively strong as they were last season.

Liverpool are not as fluent as they were last year at either end of the pitch. Last season, Liverpool looked like no one could get past them at the back and they couldn’t be stopped going forward. Now, they are not winning games 4-0 or 5-1, it’s usually 1-0 or 2-1, every game is a struggle.

Liverpool are more of a target now. Last season everyone had their eye on Manchester City and Liverpool were off the radar a bit, but they are a scalp now, everyone is out to stop them.

Liverpool is now a big fixture for everyone else. Other teams get stronger, they are more aware of what Liverpool have so that’s been a struggle for them.

I can’t see the league being won this weekend. It is a big weekend for Liverpool, if they beat City, it’s not just the points gap that will count but the fact that they’ll feel invincible.

But the truth is, they could lose the following week and they’ll be back to where they were. A nine-point gap could be back to four in no time and that pressure will be on them for the rest of the season until the league is definitely won. But if they can get a win, beating City is a great psychological advantage in the interim.

If Ederson is not playing you’d put Liverpool as favourites for Sunday, but with the standards that City have set over the last three years you can’t rule them out, even when things are against them. With the quality of Aguero and Sterling going forward, they always have a chance of winning a game.

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