How City failed to bounce back from Barcelona's Frenkie De Jong hijack

How Manchester City lost their OOMPH: Midfield drop-off is holding back the team as Pep Guardiola’s side continue to rue Barcelona’s hijack of Frenkie de Jong deal

  • Manchester City currently sit 12th in the Premier League after a slow start 
  • Pep Guardiola’s side are currently eight points behind Liverpool and Tottenham 
  • City have lost an element of dynamism and fails transfer plans highlight this 
  • Frenkie de Jong was the main target two years ago, but Barcelona wrecked plans 

Two years ago, members of Frenkie de Jong’s family were in Manchester scouting out properties. A transfer from Ajax to play under Pep Guardiola was moving apace.

This was the central midfielder who Manchester City wanted to take over from Fernandinho. Aged only 21, De Jong was the fulcrum of an Ajax side who would unexpectedly reach that season’s Champions League semi-finals.

His girlfriend jetted into the North West to find a house in which they could start a new life. Then Barcelona called and everything changed. Guardiola knows better than anybody the pull his boyhood club possess for players on the continent.

Pep Guardiola is acutely aware that his Man City team doesn’t have the oomph it once did

A £65million fee was agreed for the following summer and Barcelona it was. Las Ramblas had trumped Deansgate.

The previous summer, 2018, City had shied away from signing Fred over finances, leaving the Brazilian to move to Manchester United. They also lost out to Chelsea in the race to sign Jorginho from Napoli.

Eventually, after three misses, they settled on Atletico Madrid’s Rodri last summer.

Rodri, 24, cost fractionally less than Barca paid for De Jong. He is seen by Guardiola as the best available at receiving the ball facing his own goal and moving it on quickly, a key facet of City’s style.

What he doesn’t offer is mobility and, in a bid to diminish the chance of being hit on the counter attack, one of Guardiola’s two other midfielders now frequently operates deeper as protection.

Rodri was seen as the best available option for City, but he does limit mobility in the team

That can leave them with one fewer attacker in the final third and might explain the drop-off in goals this season, Guardiola’s worst start to a season and the fact they are 13th in the Premier League table, eight points adrift of Liverpool and Tottenham. It has all added up to a lack of attacking ‘oomph’ — or a drop in intensity, as Gary Neville has been labelling it.

While they should not lose at Olympiacos on Wednesday night — a draw would see City through to the last 16 — they have not been on song domestically and there is a sense around the team that they are relying too heavily on individualism.

Some would like a return of natural wingers to ‘widen’ the pitch. Others call for Phil Foden’s energy in a central position.

But Guardiola said: ‘The reason is the manager. I have to adjust something, to let them feel we can create more. It is in my hands to help them. Except for Liverpool and Chelsea, all the others defend so deep and you have to find a way to avoid it. That is not the big problem right now — it is our fluidity to attack more and create more chances.’

City were all set to complete a deal for Frenkie de Jong before Barcelona swooped in

City have scored 10 goals in eight Premier League matches —their worst return since 2006 — despite averaging 15 shots per game. Guardiola was particularly infuriated by his side’s attacking wastefulness in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool earlier this month.

For all the talk of defensive frailty following the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham on Saturday, when City were picked apart easily, Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte are showing signs of forming a strong partnership. City’s detractors would argue that is only natural, given they cost a combined £120million.

City, who have a game in hand on the top two, believe they will be right in the title race by Christmas. Aside from the Manchester derby at Old Trafford, the run of league fixtures is kind, starting with Burnley at home on Saturday.

But first, they have to find that ‘oomph’ again.

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