City on the rack Manchester City faced a fork in the road this weekend and promptly ploughed into the central reservation. Though it should be noted that any analysis of the game itself is hugely affected by the oddness of giving up a two goal deficit within five minutes, it’s quite possible that they turned up at the King Power stadium thinking that Leicester would pose little threat. Indeed, there is nothing in this season’s form to suggest Jamie Vardy was likely to spring to life (all his shot rates have halved) and when visiting, teams have been content to try to shut the game down and endeavour to snuff the life out of Leicester’s attack. No stadium has seen fewer shots in matches than the King Power, with Leicester averaging a little over ten per game (they took ten on Saturday) and the opposition a shade over twelve. It hasn’t quite worked for the most part, as Leicester have a tasty positive skew that has fuelled their 4-3-1 record, with 52% of their shots on goal registering and only half that rate for their opposition, but still, you get the idea that teams aren’t just turning up there thinking they can steamroller their way through. This is Leicester--you play onto them and they will break on you, maybe. So if you’re a team with slight issues involving conceding goals from counters or throughballs, a little circumspection would possibly be beneficial. The league goals Man City have conceded this season prior to the Leicester game can be neatly stored into 5 categories:
- One penalty
- One 25 yarder picked up off the second ball
- Two John Stones errors (including one shared with Claudio Bravo vs Man Utd)
- Three back post crosses (two headers and an own goal)
- Eight throughball/counter attack/one on ones
Leicester added two more to the last category, hit a 25 yarder off the second ball and pulled down John Stones’ pants for another. Clearly there is little point trying to score any other type of goal than those listed. I jest of course, but the blueprint for defensive vulnerability of Manchester City has been well defined, Claudio Bravo gets slated weekly for failing to stop a raft of one on ones and we all scratch our heads wondering what’s going on with Guardiola’s defensive ideas. So are City conceding good chances? Well, this is where a little delving around is rewarding. In the aggregate, they concede under nine shots per game (great) and the value of these chances is 0.096 xG per shot (11th, so average). They’re conceding defined non-penalty “big chances” at a rate of one per game which is lower than all three of Manuel Pellegrini’s seasons, so a plus, but of the shots they have conceded, 11.4% of them have been classed as “big chances”. This is slightly ahead of league average of 10.0%, so a small negative, but we’re talking fractions here--literally two fewer and they are below average--and across 15 games it’s a non-terminal margin. Also six of 15 non-penalty big chances were conceded against Chelsea and Leicester and context within them is again informative. Chelsea’s two were both breakaway goals when City were looking stronger and pressing for a winner, while as mentioned nearly everything about the Leicester game is coloured by the game state. Just as an example, where might we find Kolorov here if the scoreline is reversed? (original pic on left via @1415football) Beyond that, City now host Watford (fine, okay) and Arsenal (probably the last team they could do with facing right now) but with the knowledge that these vulnerabilities are there. Guardiola is unlikely to send his team out without a view to minimising these problems. While Chelsea could be written off as an unfortunate by-product of pushing for a win, Leicester showed that the team needed to focus from the kick off. Will Guardiola change? It’s doubtful, but he’ll rarely field a back three of John Stones and two full backs again, and Nicolas Otamendi will surely return quickly. The bigger picture is that they conceded nine big chances in thirteen games before these two fixtures, which is excellent and some natural reversion against what we've seen this last ten days is more likely than not in forthcoming games. They haven’t become a bad team. During the last nine games since their six game win streak came to an end they’ve gone 3-3-3 but during that time they’ve outshot their opposition 155 to 75, and the only time they were outshot in a single game all season was against Tottenham. That was the only game they didn’t exceed 60% of the possession--four times exceeding 70%--and they disrupt the opposition’s passing more than any other team in the league. Chelsea's attack and a reawoken Vardy and Riyad Mahrez will not be in the opposition every week. It’s 15 league games and the experiment has hit a bump in the road. Centre backs are hard to find these days yet once more seem required with Eliaquim Mangala discarded and Vincent Kompany perma-crocked, as do full backs, regardless of the system Guardiola ends up favouring, and it will be interesting if City enter the transfer market this January. There will be a hell of a lot of analysis this week and beyond searching to solve the problems and arguing what should be done. Just this evening Robbie "Foghorn" Savage advanced heated views on Radio FiveLive and most won't recognise that this is likely to be a quickly forgotten low point and a wider perspective is more supportive of the whole project. If there is concern, it's that City have seen excellent baseline numbers fail to translate into title winning form since their 2013-14 win, and with Chelsea winning and hot and Arsenal not too far behind, there isn't much time for Guardiola to lose if the title is to remain a realistic goal. He needs to find a way to allow his team to exert decisive control, especially in bigger games, but they aren't too far away from where they need to be. Now imagine if Kevin De Bruyne had just finished that chance against Chelsea...