Football Features

Can Man City’s strengths negate their left-side weakness in quest to regain the title?

By Harry Edwards

Man City: Can strengths negate left-side weakness this season?

Published: 11:49, 23 September 2020 | Updated: 8:29, 19 December 2022

Manchester City opened their 2020/21 Premier League campaign with a 3-1 win away to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday night, kickstarting their quest to regain the title with a positive result.

The Citizens’ start to the league season was delayed due to their participation in the latter stages of the Champions League, and so they had to watch their rivals play two games before kicking a ball themselves.

It was a solid return to action for Pep Guardiola’s side as Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus found the scoresheet against a team that had did double over Man City last season, but there were still weaknesses on show for Guardiola to contemplate.

Wolves expose unsolved weakness

If you were to ask 100 people to identify Man City’s biggest weakness over the past few seasons, even when they won the Premier League, you would be hard-pushed to find someone who didn’t say their defence, and more specifically its left side, which was the case again at Molineux.

Over the summer, Man City spent £40m on Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake, a talented left-footed centre-back who can also play at full-back and will undoubtedly be key across the seasons to come. The Dutchman was joined in defence on Monday night by Kyle Walker, John Stones and Benjamin Mendy. Despite fielding a backline that cost Man City around £190m, the problems were still there for all to see.

Speaking after the game, Guardiola admitted he had expected his side to suffer against Wolves, and they did at times, particularly in the second half.

It was a good performance. We know how difficult it is. Sometimes the opening is good and sometimes we need more time to get our best conditions – but the start was good.

The period that we are in and the situation that we had in these past two weeks, I expected that in some moments we would suffer, but in general we controlled the game.

Pep Guardiola speaking after Man City’s win over Wolves

Having allowed just two shots – none on target – in the first 45 minutes at Molineux, taking a two-goal lead into half-time, Man City subsequently opened up in defence. The second half involved eight shots from Wolves, more than Man City had, and one goal through Raul Jimenez.

The majority of Wolves’ attacking came up against City’s right flank in the first half, but their more dangerous moves took place on the opposite side (denoted above by the bolder red). Accordingly, the emphasis shifted at the interval, after which they attacked the left side of City’s defence most frequently and ultimately scored their goal that way. Although Mendy was not on the flank at the time and instead tucked into the centre, Daniel Podence made the most of the space by nutmegging De Bruyne before whipping in a lovely cross for Raul Jimenez to head in.

Worth noting is that the right flank is Wolves’ preferred channel of attack in general and naturally it was Traore doing a lot of the work to disrupt Mendy, completing seven of his eight take-ons on the night, five of which came in the second half as he was allowed to advance further forward from his initial wing-back position. It wasn’t a new problem for City on Monday night. In last season’s two matches between Wolves and Man City, Traore caused havoc against Mendy and Joao Cancelo on separate occasions.

Mendy suffered in other games across the 2019/20 season, too, including in the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea which officially handed the Premier League title to Liverpool, as he was caught out and beaten far too easily by Christian Pulisic. The Frenchman is undoubtedly a dangerous attacking full-back, but when it comes to defending there are still question marks.

And it’s the same on the other side of the pitch. Mendy and Walker’s attack-heavy style of play, in keeping with Man City’s overall tactics, often make Guardiola’s side susceptible to the counter attack. Teams who break quickly, a la Wolves and Liverpool, need only keep their defence secure enough to repel Man City’s attacks before exploiting space left in behind and launching counters.

But at the same time, teams who play slow but meaningful passes, looking to keep hold of the ball and build their play from deep, can also cause Man City problems as Guardiola’s side are forced to fret. Again this was evident against Wolves, who can be both devastating on the counter and play exciting passing football, particularly when they have the likes of Podence on their books to create big moments out of very little.

If Wolves had expanded their second-half game plan across the whole the match, it’s not inconceivable that they could have gotten yet another result against Man City.

Does it really matter?

For all the promise and exciting football Wolves showed in the second half on Monday night, they still lost 3-1. And that raises the question as to whether Man City’s weaknesses actually matter?

Man City won at Molineux because they were simply fantastic in the first half. De Bruyne was on form, winning the penalty which he so coolly converted, Foden continued to show why he has been backed to fill the gap left by David Silva, and the wingers were particularly potent too. Their two-goal advantage came not only because they were so good in attack, but because they also starved Wolves of the ball early on.

William Hill’s 2020/21 Premier League title odds:

  • Man City – 17/20
  • Liverpool – 6/4
  • Chelsea – 12/1
  • Arsenal – 22/1
  • Man Utd – 25/1

*You have to be 18+ to gamble. All odds and offers within this article are accurate at the time of writing (13:30, 22/09/2020). BeGambleAware.

By half-time, Man City had 68% possession and completed 87.4% of their passes, and had created eight shooting chances. Flying out of the blocks, having had to wait so long for their return to action, Man City made sure they would not misfire against a Wolves side that some may have expected to be fresher, despite playing their third game in the space of eight days.

And let’s not forget all the stars Man City have on their books. The win over Wolves saw Guardiola made just one substitution, bringing new-signing Ferran Torres on for Raheem Sterling, and he was able to leave Riyad Mahrez on the bench.

Then there are the likes of Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan who were not included in the squad for various reasons. That’s 254-goal Aguero, by the way. When the Argentinian does return from his injury, he will once again add to the threat of Man City’s attack.