Tuesday 20 March 2018

Zabaleta admits City must improve at the back

Manchester City 4 Cardiff City 2

Pablo Zabaleta of Man City and Gary Medel of Cardiff compete for the ball
Pablo Zabaleta of Man City and Gary Medel of Cardiff compete for the ball

Tim Rich

When the men from Barcelona go through the video of Manchester City's latest home win, it will not be the four goals that they scored against Cardiff or the 103 they have amassed this season that will interest them most.

Instead, they will study the goals Manuel Pellegrini's side conceded.

There were two more at the Etihad Stadium, although Pellegrini discounted Cardiff's second because, well, Manchester City were 4-1 up and it was the 92nd minute.

It was, however, the 28th they had conceded, around 30pc more than Arsenal and Chelsea, their two chief rivals for the championship.

That, however, is likely to be only a thin chink of light for Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho.

Both of Mourinho's titles were won by Chelsea sides that were not the Premier League's leading goalscorers.

In 2005, Arsenal scored 15 more but lost the league by a dozen points. The following year, Chelsea and Manchester United scored 72 times each.

However, since then only one team, Liverpool in 2009, have been the Premier League's leading scorers and not lifted the trophy. Domestically, goals matter.

Europe, however, is different. The Villarreal side that Pellegrini took to the European Cup semi-final in 2006 topped their group by conceding one goal and scoring three. The Arsenal side that beat them conceded twice in the dozen matches leading to the final.


The Manchester City that faces Barcelona next month is rather different.

In their Champions League group only once did they keep a clean sheet and, although it featured a victory at the Allianz Arena, going two goals behind to Bayern Munich is not a stratagem that usually succeeds.

"That is something we need to improve. At this stage of the season it is crucial," said the City full-back, Pablo Zabaleta.

"Always, if you concede two you will be disappointed. We have to defend much better but sometimes when you play an offensive game like we are doing, you leave yourself exposed at the back."

Cardiff's opening goal that briefly levelled the contest would concern Pellegrini.

Martin Demichelis, who is proving a weak and targetable link in City's defence, left the rest of the back four exposed and Craig Noone twice turned Vincent Kompany before shooting home.

Of the £86m Manchester City spent in the summer, just £3.5m (Demichelis' fee) was employed in shoring up the defence. That may yet be a fatal omission. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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