The issues Man City must address to regain the Premier League title

Is this just a blip, or should the alarm bells be ringing for Guardiola? An attitude problem, Cancelo’s struggles and losing an edge in midfield are the key issues Man City need to address if they are to win the Premier League title

  • Manchester City endured a shock exit from the Carabao Cup vs Southampton 
  • They put in a poor performance in the quarter-final and were well-beaten
  • Several problems at the club have begun to emerge over the current campaign
  • Sportsmail outlines the issues Pep Guardiola must address to regain the title 

Pep Guardiola does not generally lose games in the Carabao Cup, a competition Manchester City have won four times under their current manager.

Beyond blooding their best youngsters, City view the trophy as a valuable exercise in handing match minutes and sharpness to those who have not contributed so much during the season but may be called upon as the campaign becomes congested.

It worked against Chelsea and Liverpool in previous rounds but at Southampton on Wednesday, those given the chance to impress failed. City did not register a shot on target for the first time in five years; not even the introduction of Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland helped.

Manchester City were knocked out the Carabao Cup by Southampton in a shock result

They were well beaten by Southampton and Pep Guardiola has several issues to address 

Although they have beaten Chelsea twice, and Liverpool and Leeds since the World Cup, supporters have a number of concerns — not just for tomorrow’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford but their overall Premier League title defence.


‘You have to be prepared when playing for Manchester City and we were not,’ Guardiola said at St Mary’s. ‘I had a feeling that whatever line-up, we would have performed this way. We were not here.’

Reading between the lines, that suggests the manager was referring to body language for the second time this month. Guardiola — whose Etihad tenure has not been without heated discussions with players about team selection — would prefer this to any deep-rooted problems on the pitch.

He prides himself on keeping a squad energised throughout a season and, publicly at least, says that is the most important aspect of his job. These spells have happened before, noticeably during a slump two years ago. Back then, captain Fernandinho tore strips off his team-mates after a sloppy training session — a moment that helped spark them into life.

City haven’t had the right attitude in recent weeks and Guardiola must solve this quickly

City may need the same from Ilkay Gundogan this time. The German laid bare the issues yesterday.

‘Southampton was a lack of attitude, confidence and commitment,’ he said. ‘Hopefully it was the right wake-up call for us. We’ve won games but I feel like something is missing, something’s off. At the minute there’s a special recipe missing — performances, the desire and hunger is not as in recent years. We need to start working hard again, we need to be humble because things will not come to us automatically.’

That requires fixing quickly.



City have muddled through at left back for years. Oleksandr Zinchenko never earned the full vote of confidence and Joao Cancelo has been converted from a right back.

Zinchenko was allowed to leave without a replacement coming in — City refused to meet Brighton’s valuation of Marc Cucurella — and ended up signing Sergio Gomez from Anderlecht instead. Gomez, whose agent is Guardiola’s brother, would have left on loan had they secured a senior full back. He has struggled.

They have struggled at left-back with Sergio Gomez failing to impress since his summer move

All of this has prompted square pegs in round holes, especially as Cancelo’s form has dipped. The Portuguese was at fault for the defeat at Liverpool earlier in the season and has not reached anywhere near previous heights. He has found starts hard to come by recently — Guardiola spoke of specific players not showing the required ‘body language’ in training — and Nathan Ake has been asked to fill in. As good as he is defensively, City then lose something in their fluid build-up.

The best teams have a stable back four — City have operated with 11 different central defensive partnerships this season — John Stones and Aymeric Laporte, arguably the strongest pairing, have not been one of them.


Meanwhile, Joao Cancelo – who is such a key player – has seen his form plummet this season


 The full back situation has a knock-on effect on the rest of the team. An out-of-sorts Cancelo means City have to alter the way they play. He acts as an auxiliary midfielder but without him, that role is then passed on to Kyle Walker or teenager Rico Lewis on the right.

There has been a lack of dynamism in the midfield area this year. Guardiola says the only performances he has been displeased with this season were this week’s loss against Southampton and the defeat by Brentford before the World Cup — he insists his team have done what he asked in every other fixture. But their play has been stodgy on occasion. There do not appear to be the same number of deep runners into the box, with the understandable tendency to only look for Haaland, given his freakish ability in front of goal.

Gundogan is not showing the same goalscoring instinct, with Bernardo Silva’s displays not as eye-catching. De Bruyne has 14 assists yet has blown hot and cold. Some have filled in as wingers. Square pegs again.


Too many of City’s midfielders such as Bernardo Silva (above) have not been at their best


It is very hard to criticise Guardiola tactically. City are only two points shy of their total at this stage last season and successfully defending the title for a second consecutive year would be no surprise whatsoever.

The way in which they operate, following Guardiola’s instructions to the letter, has served City exceptionally well in dominating domestic football. However, there is an argument that in evolving as a coach, Guardiola has become conservative. He wants to control every match, eliminating risk as far as possible and not leaving his team vulnerable to the counter-attack.

That can blunt their attacking edge — certainly that was the case during the New Year’s Eve draw against Everton. Do City worry about the opposition too much? Should they fly forward like the Harlem Globetrotters and back themselves to out-score any opposition?

Guardiola would likely say that is fanciful given even the top teams sit with 11 men behind the ball, forcing City to pick their way through packed defences. And City’s recent history suggests their constant recycling of possession has served them well.


Guardiola has plenty to ponder and perhaps he needs to worry less about the opposition

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