While Villa Park has developed into an Anfield-like cauldron under Unai Emery, the manner of Aston Villa’s victory over Manchester City on Wednesday night depicted the problems currently facing Pep Guardiola.
Sure, the absence of lynchpin Rodri was once again a mitigating factor, but City’s recent demise points to issues that transcend the Spaniard’s absence. Rodri started each of the Cityzens’ previous three Premier League draws in which they conceded eight times. That’s almost a quarter of the goals they conceded in the competition last season as they secured their third straight title.
Injuries combined with departures mean City currently don’t look like their usual juggernaut-selves. There’s a vulnerability about them not seen since Guardiola’s first season and the Covid-impacted 2019/20 campaign when Liverpool won the title.
The perennial champions’ emphatic 1-0 defeat was their fourth Premier League game without a win. It’s a run City have seemingly never endured given their relentless dominance with the Catalonian at the helm.
Such a barren streak has only occurred once in the Guardiola era, with this lean spell arriving at the end of the Spaniard’s first season at the club.
Guardiola started his Premier League journey with six straight wins, but his first City side were so often ruthlessly exposed on the counter-attack and won just seven of their next 16 games. A title charge looked beyond the Cityzens, champions two seasons prior, but they seemed to be building up some momentum ahead of the run-in.
City won all of their Premier League fixtures in February and their 2-0 win over Sunderland to start March meant they’d won four on the bounce. However, things took a turn for the worst on either side of the March international break.
Guardiola’s rotated side were frustrated at home by Stoke just days before they were beaten by Monaco which knocked them out of the Champions League. A 1-1 draw with Liverpool ensued as Chelsea and Tottenham started to pull away at the top of the table.
City’s tricky spring run continued after the break as they visited the Emirates, returning with a 2-2 draw and another single point. Given Arsenal’s dismal run of form heading into the contest, this was a bout City really had to win if they had any aspirations of catching Antonio Conte’s Blues at the summit. Instead, they were pegged back by a Shkodran Mustafi header at the start of the second half.
Guardiola’s side then had one last hope of mounting a late title charge as they took on the league leaders at Stamford Bridge, The contest under the lights started with goals at both ends as Chelsea took a 2-1 lead into half-time. City had the better of the second half, coming close to equalising when Vincent Kompany hit the crossbar, but the hosts held on for a crucial three points on their way to the title.
Defeat in west London was City’s last of the 2016/17 season, but they’d only muster a third-place finish in Guardiola’s maiden campaign at the helm.
Pep will take solace in knowing his side’s current malaise has arrived before the halfway point in the 2023/24 season. Still, with the fixtures arriving thick and fast over Christmas and City jetting off to Saudi Arabia for the Club World Cup, a sustained decline will surely end their hopes of a fourth-straight league title.
Man City’s last four-game Premier League winless run
Man City 0-0 Stoke City
Man City 1-1 Liverpool
Arsenal 2-2 Man City
Chelsea 2-1 Man City