20 December 2021

The keys to Manchester City’s success so far in their Premier League defence

20 December 2021

Champions Manchester City will top the Premier League at Christmas after hitting form with a run of eight successive wins.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the reasons for their strong start to the campaign.

Quality of squad

Kevin De Bruyne’s absences this season have hardly cost City (Barrington Coombs/PA) (PA Wire)

It may seem a long time ago now, but City did not have a great start to the campaign, losing their opening game at Tottenham with a host of players – notably their England internationals – undercooked after going deep into the tournament at Euro 2020. With star playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden injured and record signing Jack Grealish taking time to settle, City needed to find the decisive contributions from elsewhere. Naturally in a squad packed with talent, particularly in terms of midfielders, other players stepped up.

Bernardo Silva with point to prove

Bernardo Silva has excelled despite looking to leave the club last summer (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Wire)

One of the players to rise to the challenge was Bernardo Silva. The Portugal international let it be known he wanted to leave the club in the summer for a fresh challenge after a couple of seasons on the fringes of Pep Guardiola’s side. Yet no move materialised and, after injuries presented an opportunity to return to the team, he grabbed it with both hands. The 27-year-old has arguably been City’s most influential player this term, providing the midfield impetus and chipping in with seven goals.

Evolving threat and the role of Joao Cancelo

Joao Cancelo has been one of City’s star performers (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Wire)

Guardiola has brought in a new brand of play whereby his full-backs come inside when in possession to bolster midfield. Joao Cancelo has really stepped it up this season, often from his lesser-preferred side on the left. The Portuguese effectively operates as an extra playmaker and the quality of his delivery has been exquisite, with eye-catching curling balls with the outside of the boot and volleyed crosses. He showed his eye for goal in Sunday’s win at Newcastle and also performs the more conventional full-back duties well too.

Good man-management and form of Raheem Sterling

Sterling (centre) has been well managed by Guardiola (right) (Richard Sellers/PA) (PA Wire)

Although he was picked to start in the Champions League final, Raheem Sterling appeared to fall out of favour in the latter part of last season. He remained a peripheral figure in the opening weeks of the current campaign and, given his status in the English game, it led to speculation over his future. Yet Guardiola maintained the situation was simply a case of other players being in better form and Sterling’s chance would come again. He was only ever an injury or two to team-mates away from a recall and, when the chances started to come again, he was hungry and ready to take them. It appears a case of excellent man-management.

Controlling possession and strong defence

City’s defence has held firm (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Wire)

City not only have the best points tally but also the best defensive record in the Premier League, having conceded just a measly nine goals. Their back line is well led by Ruben Dias, with Aymeric Laporte returning to form and John Stones, after not featuring in the first two months of the season, building on his good work of last term. Goalkeeper Ederson has also made crucial saves when required. Yet it is not just about the quality of the defenders, it is about City’s whole style of play. By consistently dominating possession, City prevent opponents from applying pressure. Guardiola was once scoffed at for saying he did not want his defenders to tackle. What he meant was that he wanted the team to play in such a way that they did not need to. City are living up to that vision.

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