If you’re reading this in May 2024, as Manchester City put the finishing touches on another treble-winning season, then you may be questioning the sanity of the title of this article.
But as of December 2023, Pep Guardiola’s side looks a pale imitation of that which dominated soccer both in the UK and in Europe last season.
Quite what has gone wrong is hard to pinpoint at first glance – they have the same head coach in Pep Guardiola, and arguably a stronger squad than they did in their stellar 2022/23 campaign.
So why do they keep dropping points and scraping through games?
Losing Their Edge
After their 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in December, City were, for the first time during the 2023/24 season, available at ‘positive’ Premier League betting odds of +110, with Liverpool at +260 and Arsenal at +300.
Most Premier League tips will still favor Pep’s men to retain their grip on the trophy given their dominance of English soccer in recent times, however the stats suggest they have certainly lost their aura of invincibility this term.
FULL-TIME | Points shared.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 16, 2023
They sit just third in the Expected Goals (xG) table, a stat that measures the quality of the goalscoring chances being created. It’s almost unheard of for City not to lead the way in this metric in the Pep era.
At the other end of the pitch, the Cityzens rank second for the xG yielded stat too – an excellent performance, relatively speaking, for any team, but perhaps not so much for one that has enjoyed almost singular dominance over the Premier League for five seasons or more.
The upshot is that, right now at least, City are neither the best offensive nor defensive outfit in the EPL – explaining why they sit as low as fourth in the league table at the time of writing.
There is still time for them to turn that around, of course, but these are worrying times for their supporters, who have gorged themselves on a diet of absolute superiority.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
The 2-1 win over Luton Town on December 10 summed up one of City’s biggest issues this term: the absence of the long-term injured Kevin de Bruyne.
The Belgian is the equivalent of a quarterback; his range of passing creates countless chances and assists for his teammates. Without him, Pep has missed a midfield architect capable of breaking down the opposition’s deep defensive lines.
The news after the Burnley game was a really big blow for me physically and mentally. Now the surgery is done I’m ready to heal my body and get back to work soon. Thank you all for the support pic.twitter.com/dULTfmSTdr
— Kevin De Bruyne (@KevinDeBruyne) August 18, 2023
At Luton, the Cityzens mustered just six goals on target against one of the worst defensive outfits in the Premier League, failing to score inside the first hour of the game.
Against Palace, they lost on the xG count to one of the most toothless attacks in the division, and the nadir came against Aston Villa on December 6 – that 0-1 defeat saw them have just two shots on their opponent’s goal in the entire game.
Pep will be advising his medical treatment to try all manner of alternative therapies to get De Bruyne back up and running as soon as possible – Manchester City’s season depends on it.