Manchester City dropped points for the third consecutive matchweek in the Premier League with a 3-3 draw against Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
After remaining top of the league for weeks, despite injuries to so many key members of the squad, the reality of a limited first-team roster burdened with fixture congestion is beginning to set in for Pep Guardiola.
It was everything you have come to expect from a Manchester City against Tottenham Hotpsur match: City dominating from the start, awarded four corners in the opening five minutes, only to concede from Spurs’ first chance of the match, from none other than Heung-min Son.
From that moment, it should have been obvious. City were able to get grab an early equaliser from a lucky Son own goal, but were unable to take the lead despite both Erling Haaland and Jeremy Doku having perfect opportunities to do so. The signs were there from the start.
Manchester City did however manage to do just that on 31 minutes after Phil Foden’s excellent finish capped off a wonderful team goal, but the Champions were unable to capitalise on momentum as Julian Alvarez and Haaland failed to convert their two big chances.
Spurs responded strong in the second half and crawled their way back into the match. Just like in so many matches between these two teams, the North London club only needed a yard of space to capitalise on a City mistake. A careless turnover from Julian Alvarez gave Giovani Lo Celso both time and space to curl an effort past Ederson to bring the match level once more.
However, the craziness was far from over. Jack Grealish grabbed his first goal of the season in the 81st minute to reclaim the lead, but Manchester City failed to take control and allowed Dejan Kulusevski to get the best of Nathan Ake on a cross and head in a third equaliser.
The ridiculousness of the fixture was capped off when referee Simon Hooper awarded Manchester City an advantage for a tackle on Erling Haaland, only to immediately blow the play dead after the Norwegian found Jack Grealish running free on goal.
It was a horrid decision that left the entire Manchester City squad in disbelief that a one-on-one opportunity in the closing minute of the match could be called back due to a foul on the other half of the pitch.
Manchester City were unable to respond after the decision, and saw yet another excellent performance awarded with a draw due to poor finishing, poor defending and a lack of control. Here are the five things we learned from Sunday’s disappointing result at the Etihad.
Erling Haaland’s inconsistent finishing needs to be addressed
The 23-year-old is the best striker in the world. He is still a vital and undroppable member of this Manchester City squad. However, his 15 big chances missed in 14 games is troubling.
At times, it’s a misleading stat for Haaland because he plays in a team that will create more high quality chances than the rest of the league, but at the moment it’s highlighting Manchester City’s inability to kill teams off.
Haaland currently leads the league both in goals scored and big chances missed. He’s currently ahead of Darwin Nunez, Ollie Watkins, Rasmus Hojlund and Nicolas Jackson. Haaland led the league in big chances missed during his record breaking performance last season. However, the Norwegian striker only missed 28 in 35 games. He’s currently on track to nearly be 50% higher than last season.
Maybe it’s due to not having Kevin De Bruyne, maybe it’s a slight dip in confidence or concentration. Whatever the root cause is, it’s something that hopefully can be quickly drilled out of him.
Manchester City’s press is their best chance creator
With the departures of Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez, combined with Kevin De Bruyne’s long-term injury, Manchester City have lost the majority of their creative force.
When you combine that with Jack Grealish and John Stones unable to provide control on the pitch, you get these basketball matches Manchester City have so willingly taken part in these past few weeks.
That chaotic energy has allowed a pressing group of Erling Haaland, Julian Alvarez, Jeremy Doku and Phil Foden to essentially create chances out of thin air. Spurs players were giving the ball away for fun at times in the first half and it should’ve led to several goals.
It’s a sound strategy for the time being, but coming off the back of a treble win during a World Cup elongated season, Manchester City’s attacking line-up probably cannot afford to exert that much energy week-in and week-out.
Phil Foden is growing into his right wing role
It wasn’t the best season for Phil Foden last year on the right wing, playing in a different position for the third season running while battling multiple injuries. However, the 23-year-old has regained his form with six goal involvements in his last seven starts, and is now up 12 goals in his 18 starts this season.
For years now, Pep Guardiola has been vocal about Foden’s inability to slow down as one of the key reasons why he has yet to make the transition to midfield, so much so that Gareth Southgate has even been wary about playing him centrally for England.
But over the past few games, Phil Foden has been more composed on the ball, often times electing to make the extra pass or recycle possession, instead of carelessly dribbling into a slew of defenders.
Until Kevin De Bruyne eventually returns, there’s now a case to be made that Phil Foden is becoming the most talented playmaker in the squad.
What more does Rico Lewis need to do to be trusted
From becoming the youngest debutant scorer in UEFA Champions League history, to last chance tackles on Mohamed Sarah to save a result, to sublime technical ability, Rico Lewis appears to have it all.
After coming on for Phil Foden in the last third of the match on Sunday afternoon, his calming presence brought some semblance of control into a squad that has only pushed for goal at every possible moment as of late.
However, the 19-year-old has not been a consistent member of the squad this season, especially in the Premier League. The fullback-turned-midfielder has gotten a load of minutes in a weak Champions League group, but has only started two games in the league.
With John Stones not fully fit, and the squad lacking any sense of control, Rico Lewis appears like the perfect counter. But that would require Pep Guardiola to trust a teenager.
Away at Villa becomes one of the biggest matches of the season
Manchester City are now staring down the barrel of three consecutive draws and now sit third in the league table. While it’s not even at the halfway point of the season yet, the midweek fixture against Aston Villa is a potential breaking point.
Between Rodri and Jack Grealish out due to yellow card accumulation, Jeremy Doku potentially sidelined due to injury, and John Stones might not be fully fit yet, it’s becoming one of the more difficult Manchester City fixtures in recent memory.
Dropping points in four consecutive matches doesn’t kill off the Premier League title race, but it certainly would plant a seed. City close out December with matches against Luton Town, Crystal Palace, Everton and Sheffield United.
A win against Villa on Wednesday could kick-start a run heading into 2024.
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