Pep Guardiola has made his worst ever start to a league season as a coach and the bad news is that Manchester City’s campaign is not going to get any easier.
With a minimum of two games a week between now and the New Year, the strain on the City squad is only going to increase and the City boss has to somehow manage the demands placed upon his players.
“We’ve already dropped seven points, which is a lot,” Guardiola admitted after failing to win at the London Stadium for the first time in five visits with City.
“But we’ve struggled a lot for many reasons. We have to take things game by game and see what happens.”
City’s players are already tired, with the start of the new season in September comingbarely a month after City’s disastrous Champions League quarter-final loss to Lyon in Lisbon.
Consequently, while many people are shocked by City’s poor form in the opening weeks of the 2020-21 campaign– this is the club’s worst start since 2014– Guardiola is not in the least bit surprised.
An almost non-existent pre-season was exacerbated by the fact that so many first-team players have either struggled for full fitness or tested positive for Covid-19.
Of Guardiola’s first-team squad, Kyle Walker, Rodri, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden are the only outfield players that have been available for every game since the opening weekend.
Walker had played every minute until he was taken off against West Ham because, in Guardiola’s words, the defender was exhausted.
“I would prefer to have results but I also have to analyse the start and where we are,” the City boss explained. “We have struggled because of the many injuries, the lack of preparation, and no recovery time between the games – the incredible tough games we played so far.
“The players gave absolutely everything on the pitch, they fought today and they were incredibly tired at the end, so now we are just thinking about recovering for the next game, in the Champions League.”
City lacked zip and energy in a ponderous first half at West Ham until the introduction of the fizzing Phil Foden, who snatched the equaliser shortly after half-time.
Mid-table sides have recently found way of comfortably shutting down City, so they have to be cleverer and more enterprising in order to find a way through stacked defences.
Such an approach worked well for many clubs last year and, this term, Leicester, Arsenal and now West Ham have shown that City are still struggling to come up with answers.
To complicate matters further, in a season that could well come down to the survival of the fittest, Guardiola also has to find a way of getting around deep-lying defences without constantly having to call on his go-to guys, like Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling.
It’s a difficult balancing act, given the necessity of keeping his squad fresh enough to fight on two fronts, in England and Europe. So, it was strange that, on Saturday, Guardiola chose an away match sandwiched in between two Champions League fixtures to name an starting line-up for the first time in three years.
It suggests that after a disappointing start to last season, Guardiola has lost trust in some members of his squad, chief among them John Stones, who has only started the Premier League opener against Wolves.
The centre-half has not played a minute since either and has now fallen behind want-away defender Eric Garcia in the pecking order.
Elsewhere, summer signing Ferran Torres has so far played only 35 minutes in all competitions, while highly rated academy players Cole Palmer, Tommy Doyle and Taylor Harwood-Bellis have only featured in the Carabao Cup.
However, whether Guardiola likes it or not, he’s going to have to give his fringe players more game time, so intensive is the fixture list.
If he doesn’t rotate more, the injuries are just going to keep piling up.
Gabriel Jesus has been out since the opening-weekend win over Wolves, while Sergio Aguero only returned to action last Saturday, after recovering from the knee surgery which kept him out for four months.
Without any other senior strikers, Aguero started his third game in a week at West Ham and, depressingly, he is now set for another spell on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
It was ironic that, just as Guardiola was confirming the Argentine’s latest setback, teenager Liam Delap was scoring for the under-23s back in Manchester.
The 17-year-old scored just 18 minutes into his first-team debut in the Carabao Cup but has played just 39 minutes since.
“To play four competitions and every three days, you need all the squad,” Guardiola said. “If you don’t have all the squad, it is more difficult.”
However, it’s up to the manager to heed his own advice.
Source : goal.com