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Manchester City might be fighting too much to make a difference

Do Pep Guardiola’s teams run the risk of being carded in order to control possession?

Manchester City v Burnley - Premier League
City’s “combative” style has led to a wealth of bookings and suspensions for key players.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Robert Cottingham of the Manchester Evening News has proposed that the collection of bookings and suspensions for Manchester City this season signal “an aggression that Pep's system naturally breeds throughout the team.”

Saying that Manuel Pellegrini’s version of the Blues was too passive, Cottingham argues that Pep Guardiola has “fired up his team to prove they are no soft touches and that his squad of diminutive attacking players are tough enough to handle the division's robustness.”

“Combative” sums up the attitude of City players throughout the first half of the season — both in moments of glory and disgrace.

The Champions League win against Barcelona at the Etihad, for example, revealed an intensity that was often lacking in the Sky Blue squad before August of 2016. However, that display was followed by months of inconsistent football that has seen City’s collective temper flare on a number of occasions.

Multiple important fixtures have seen City playing from behind — the away leg against Celtic, home and away fixtures against Barça, Arsenal when they visited the Etihad, etc. In situations like this, the tackles have often appeared more rash and frustrated than strategic.

Yaya Touré spoke after the January 2nd win over Burnley, saying, “When you see the red cards and a lot of yellow cards, it means that City are aggressive, very aggressive. It's part of the game. When you look at the team, we are actually one of the smallest, very small. Yet we are the team with all the red cards.”

While physicality is an obvious part of the game, the Blues are capable of winning with composure. Cynical challenges and constant complaining to referees has made more than a few games this season tough on the nerves for City fans.

In the mean time, Bacary Sagna has gained attention for implying that the referee was on Burnley’s side in a twitter post — “'10 against 12... but still fighting and winning as a team #youfreetothinkwhateveryouwant.”

Whether it is tactical pressing or covering for mistakes, City’s ability to manage aggression will most likely play a part in the title chase.