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An article analysing whether Manchester City can realistically hope to win the title after a recent spate of changes to their side.
Things have looked pretty dire for Manchester City in recent months, after a promising start under new management. Fans have been bitterly disappointed in Guardiola’s performance since he arrived at the Manchester club, with failures on the pitch compounding this misery. Perhaps the most controversial decision made by the club’s coach so far was to drop City stalwart Joe Hart in favor of Claudio Bravo: a decision which has since proved notorious as Bravo is the Premier League’s worst-performing keeper, while Hart has become Torino’s star player – and holds Serie A’s best pass rate this season for a keeper.
Maybe this is what frustrates Man City fans so much about recent goalkeeping woes. Hart was previously criticized for wanting to come off his line and play almost to the midfield, often leaving reckless open targets in the process. Guardiola welcomes this style of play and has adopted it for City, in a bid to compensate for a fairly weak defending line. However, it seems to have been the undoing of Claudio Bravo, while Joe Hart has tightened up his play and proved himself a master of the skill in the process.
Chelsea currently have an eight point lead on second place City, who jumped above Tottenham following a victory at Bournemouth. Losses by Arsenal and Liverpool in the previous week have shaken up the teams at the top once more, gifting City some much needed breathing space while they reflect on the current problems plaguing the team this season, and assess whether the title is still in their reach – or whether Chelsea have already run away with it.
Recent wins have undoubtedly bolstered City’s confidence. Two key changes made for the past four matches were the inclusion of new kid Gabriel Jesus and the sidelining of Bravo for second choice keeper Willy Caballero. The transformation has been remarkable: three clean sheets and eleven goals across the three games. But with Jesus now injured and some key European and cup games ahead, can the changes really make a difference at this point? Has Guardiola left it too late before abandoning his strategy and trying something new?
It doesn’t seem likely that the eight point gap can be breached, but Chelsea do have some tough games ahead – including Man City themselves who take the trip to London next month. One thing is certain – City are going to need to achieve close to 100% success in their games from now, as well as hoping for a few mistakes from the teams around them.
Manchester City have a history of switching up keepers to kick the first choice into touch. When Joe Hart was sidelined in favor of Costel Pantilimon following a run of poor form, he took it on the chin and came back into the game with fresh determination and a better attitude to the game. His performance was impressive enough to earn him the captain’s armband on numerous occasions during Vincent Kompany’s long absences, plus the respect of the fans. Perhaps Bravo needs a little of the same, and the time to reflect will freshen his focus.
In the meantime, City might do well to stick with Caballero. He had a shaky start with the club and it took his stellar performance saving Liverpool penalties and grabbing the League Cup for City that won fans over. Since then, his keeping has improved and although he is not a passing keeper by nature, he seems to be coping well with the team’s strategy of playing out from the back with a not too shabby 76% pass success rate for the season. With four wins over four appearances against Bravo’s 16 conceded goals in 24 shots, perhaps it is time for the reserve keeper to take a turn in the limelight. Another clean sheet at Bournemouth last Monday reinforces his run of good form. He will have to sharpen up a little though – Swansea were able to undo City quickly for the equalizer by throwing players behind the ball, before the game was rescued by double goal scorer Jesus.
For now, fortunes seem to have turned around a little. However, City fans are painfully aware that it has taken slip-ups from the other leading teams to get them back in the top two – and that there are still major weaknesses within the team. Goalkeeping remains a doubt, as Caballero cannot take on all the cup games and league games by himself indefinitely, yet Bravo would be an unpopular addition to the team sheet right now.
With the chance to upgrade the team now passed, it will be at least the summer before any fresh blood can be added to the current squad. Until then, fans will be hoping to see more of the performance level of the last two weeks. The season is about to get exciting, as we enter the final months of the season. “City are still a very popular club, both at home and internationally,” said Frugaa research analyst Nitin Y. “We see lots of requests for their products from fans here in the US and they are a key search term on our site.”
Guardiola can take create for getting something right this season: Gabriel Jesus has already proved his worth at his new club. The £27 million Brazilian forward got involved in play during the Crystal Palace cup tie which started his City career, and scored during his next two games – including twice at Swansea last weekend, saving the day following an unexpected equalizer from the Swans. However, with at least two months off with an unfortunate fractured metatarsal, the team will have to manage without him for now.
Manchester City really are taking the fight right to the wire this season, and it remains to be seen whether they can pull off another last minute miracle. The Premier League has certainly been shaken up in recent years, so always expect the unexpected!