Manchester City's Defensive Frailties Continue to Undermine Title Bid

Rob Pollard@@RobPollard_Featured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mark Noble of West Ham United tussles with Fabian Delph of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester City at the Boleyn Ground on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

There were times in Manchester City’s 2-2 draw with West ham United on Saturday in which the quality of the football excellent.

Two teams intent on attacking produced an end-to-end contest right from the off. It was absorbing stuff and further evidence that, although the Premier League lacks some of the subtleties found in other European divisions, no one can match the English top flight for entertainment. It was utterly absorbing.

West Ham flew out of the blocks, catching City cold with a goal inside a minute. But Manuel Pellegrini’s side only know one thing, and that is to attack. They were soon level, and the match, just minutes old, was wide open. It continued like that for the 90 minutes.

“It was a great game of football and very good for the football fans watching live on TV,” West Ham boss Slaven Bilic told reporters afterwards. “It was brilliant for neutrals.

“I’m really proud of the team. I’m a bit disappointed because we didn’t win.”

All the numbers that mattered at #westhamvcity... #mcfc

— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) January 23, 2016

It’s a familiar pattern for City, though. Pellegrini’s commitment to attacking football is well known. It’s rare his side aren’t involved in a game that isn’t captivating, at least in part.

What will be worrying the City fans is their side’s inability to gather any kind of momentum. It’s now three months since City managed back-to-back wins in the Premier League. The title is there for the taking, yet, they appear unable to seize the chance.

And it’s defensively they are being targeted. With Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi starting together at the back, they lack pace. Bilic looked to expose it throughout, using West Ham’s speed in attack to cause them problems, and City’s inability to deal with their threat doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season.

Otamendi, who in recent weeks has looked excellent, was most culpable. For West Ham’s second, one long throw in took him out of the game as he got the wrong side of Enner Valencia and allowed the striker a simple finish past Joe Hart. It was an appalling piece of defending.

“Of course, we are not very concentrated,” Pellegrini said afterwards. “Maybe with the throw in you are thinking there cannot be the dangers, but we knew before the game that Antonio has a very long throw-in.

“Unfortunately, in that moment, we had a distraction and allowed them to score. We had an important loss of concentration for the second goal.”

BILIC: Slaven Bilic was proud of his team's performance against @MCFC today. More at #WHUFC

— West Ham United FC (@whufc_official) January 23, 2016

One huge positive from a City perspective was the performance of Sergio Aguero, who scored two and hit the post with a moment of individual brilliance. His movement was superb, he took his goals well and his all-round game was dazzling. He's back to his best. 

"He played very well," Pellegrini said. "He scored the two goals, he won the penalty, he had another shot that hit the post and he had a final chance which he shot straight at Adrian.

"I think he is 100 per cent now and you can see it in his performance."

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

City need him at his best to stand any chance of winning the title. Leicester City's win earlier in the day means the Blues are now three points off the top and left hoping Chelsea can do them a favour when they face Arsenal on Sunday. 

Given the quality in City's squad, relying on others isn't good enough. 

Bilic, though, was full of praise and hopes City go on and win the title. "I’ve never seen a team in the Premier League that is so dangerous," he said. "For me, it would be good if they win the league. I’m Man City fan because they always try to play."

It was a statesmanlike verdict from Bilic, whose side look capable of a top-six finish, but Pellegrini must surely be having doubts. His side aren't defending well enough and three months without consecutive wins is a worrying trend. 

They may have the best squad in the league, but they're too easy to play against. 


Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2015/16 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard_.


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