Manchester City came unstuck against lowly-rated Norwich City losing 2-3 to the Premier League newcomers. It marked the first time Pep Guardiola has lost to a newly promoted team in the English top flight. In a match that was expected to be a complete whitewash for the home team, the tables turned spectacularly.
German tactician Daniel Farke had promised before the game that his side was not going to sit back and defend against the champions. But no one would have expected that the Canaries will bridge City’s defence thrice and hand the visitors a first league defeat of the campaign.
That turned out to be the case. But it was by no reason because the home team played better football than Brighton that lost 4-0 or even West Ham that conceded five without reply against City. A series of defensive errors cost Guardiola’s team the game.
To start with, defending set-pieces is fast becoming a major weakness for the Sky Blues that opponents can easily exploit. It was the failure to defend a corner kick that dumped City out of the Champions League against Tottenham last season.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men exploited the same weakness this term. Another corner kick was used to deny the Cityzens victory when both sides squared up at the Etihad Stadium a couple of weeks back. It was a game City dominated from start to finish. Yet, the final result was disappointing. For a squad that has been extensively assembled, much more is expected, especially against the smaller teams.
When one considers the fact that a large chunk of City’s expenditure has been on the defence line, defensive frailties become all the more unacceptable. Yet, the team was always going to miss longtime captain and center-back Vincent Kompany. The Belgian should have been replaced with a top class center-back to maintain squad depth.
Such is what a former Cityzen is proving to be in France. His name: Jason Denayer. Remember him? The Belgian was sold to Lyon for a giveaway price just two seasons ago. He has grown in stature and experience since making his move to the French side permanent. That has reflected in him being handed the captain armband. Now valued at just £11 million, Guardiola’s can solve his central defence problems by bringing him back to the club in January.
Injuries are a normal occurrence in the game and should always be prepared for. Having just three center-backs to navigate through four major competitions is not the best decision. History shows that one or two of them will always get injured at some point. Loss of form is another factor that necessitates squad depth. Man City was simply ill-prepared for such eventualities.
Denayer can provide a soft landing.
Nicolas Otamendi saw very limited time on the pitch last term. It must have been for a good reason if his displays so far are anything to go by. He has not shown the quality necessary to be dependent upon as the main man in the City defence.
Aymeric Laporte’s injury provided the perfect opportunity for the Argentine to step up and show why he deserves to feature regularly. Against Norwich he failed miserably, even giving away a goal to put the home side 3-1 up. That was the moment the game was won and lost.
One can only wonder what could happen in crunch ties against title contenders. Sure, the 31-year-old is capable of much better performances as he has demonstrated before. But his propensity for costly errors cannot be ruled out as well. More will most likely happen in the course of the season. He also offers little or nothing upfront during set pieces. The best defenders shine there. John Stones staying fit throughout the period is also doubtful.
As for Laporte, the Frenchman is expected back around February. History shows that players need some time to regain top form after a long layoff. Using Fernandinho or even Rodri as a makeshift center-back comes with its own risks particularly because neither is a natural fit. Yours truly even expected the Brazilian to partner either of Stones or Otamendi against Norwich to test-run the partnership against an opponent that was considered easy (at least on paper).
Having done well against Brighton, he could have played while Stones and Otamendi returned for the Champions League fixture.
Again, with experience both in the Premier League and the Champions League, Denayer could be the man that bails City out of the current situation. Yes, it’s still early in the season to get concerned about Liverpool’s five-point gap on the table. But make no mistake about it, this Jurgen Klopp’s team will not throw away an 11-point lead like it did last term.
That’s the more reason why Guardiola must not take things for granted. Denayer could prove to be the ideal replacement for his countryman (Kompany) whom he once played with at the club.