Manchester City's Title Aspirations Undermined Again by Basic Defensive Errors
Manchester City have a lot going for them right now.
Arguably the strongest squad in the Premier League, they've played some of the best football in the league at times this season, and in Sergio Aguero, they have a player in the form of his life.
However, 16 points from nine games tells its own story.
City’s 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge against a Chelsea side who never really got going demonstrated exactly why they are struggling to prove their credentials as potential title winners.
They struggle without Vincent Kompany, and Joe Hart’s form is seriously holding them back.
Kompany is one of the finest defenders around, and any side in the world would miss him when he’s injured. But City struggle an incredible amount when he’s unavailable.
It's almost like watching a different team.
His leadership and commanding presence leave a back four struggling to look composed and incapable of going 90 minutes without sloppy errors or panic station defending.
It cost them at Aston Villa and Cardiff City, and even in matches they have won, such as the win at West Ham United, their performance was undermined by some reckless moments in defence.
As the Sky Sports graphic below shows, City’s record in 2013 without Kompany is dreadful in comparison to when he plays.
City have taken 31 points from 13 games when their captain plays and have taken just 21 points from 14 matches without him.
It’s a staggering statistic.
Why City struggle so much in his absence is a mystery to most, but it's a conundrum Manuel Pellegrini must solve if City are to win the Premier League.
Gael Clichy's form also remains a concern.
A player who was excellent for the majority of last season and fully deserving of his new contract has regressed badly during the opening months of this campaign. The way he allowed Fernando Torres to burst past him for Chelsea’s opener was unfathomable given that Clichy’s pace is his most valuable asset.
In short, City look poor defensively.
And then there’s Hart, whose form still deserts him.
A top-quality save in the final seconds of Wednesday’s win in Moscow earned City three important points, and it was hoped that it would do Hart, who was mobbed by his teammates in the aftermath of the victory, a world of good.
However, the same old problems in Hart's game reared their ugly heads again today.
With the score at 1-1 with just a few minutes left, Hart inexplicably rushed from his goal to deal with a ball over the top. Matija Nastasic, who, absurdly, has been blamed by some, headed the ball back to where Hart should have been, only to see it go past his goalkeeper, allowing Torres to nip it in for the winner.
This season alone, Hart can realistically be said to have been at fault for two goals at Cardiff, the winner at Villa, three in the mauling against Bayern Munich and now the winner at Chelsea.
It’s a dreadful record.
An experienced goalkeeper should have been signed this summer because right now, City do not have adequate cover to pressurise Hart and step in when needed.
Costel Pantilimon, who will play in the League Cup on Wednesday at Newcastle, has sometimes looked dodgy in his rare cup appearances and has yet to play a league game in England.
Either Mark Schwarzer, who went to Chelsea in the summer, or Julio Cesar, who amazingly remains a Queens Park Rangers player, should have been targeted.
Don't be surprised to see Pellegrini attempt to sign Iker Casillas this January. The World Cup-winning keeper continues to play second fiddle to Diego Lopez at Real Madrid and must surely be looking for a route out.
With Aguero on fire, David Silva playing like a dream and Fernandinho looking like one of the best defensive midfielders in the league, City have cause for optimism, but they must solve their defensive issues if they want to be successful this season.
It's difficult to see them finding the kind of consistency needed to be title-winners with their back line and goalkeeper looking so woefully out of form.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.
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