Pep Guardiola has discovered the answer to his Man City attacking conundrum
Scoring goals by the lorry load at the Etihad Stadium this season is something that Manchester City are quickly becoming very familiar with.
Following Wednesday evening’s 6-3 victory over German outfit RB Leipzig in their UEFA Champions League Group A opener, City, who will be hoping to go one better in Europe this season and win club football’s most prestige competition for the very first time, have now scored 16 goals in three outings at home so far this season.
Prior to the international break, both Norwich City and Arsenal fell victim to City’s ruthlessness, each conceding five, before Leipzig forced the Etihad Stadium scoreboard operator to test out the number six for the first time this term.
Although City manager Pep Guardiola will have been disappointed to see his side concede three goals, all of which were struck by Leipzig livewire Christopher Nkunku, he can at least take comfort from the fact that his players are not struggling at the other end of the pitch.
Although City were given a helping hand for their second goal of the night when Nordi Mukiele headed Kevin De Bruyne’s cross past his own goalkeeper and into the net, they were, on the whole, ruthless and instinctive in the final third. Jack Grealish, who dazzled on his Champions League debut, and Joao Cancelo netted superb efforts, whilst Nathan Ake buried a header, Riyad Mahrez converted a penalty and Gabriel Jesus fired home from close range.
It was good to see a range of players from a range of different positions getting in on the act and proving that they can cope just fine without a mega-money striker leading them into battle.
Therefore, the fact that all six of City’s goals came via different avenues, and two of them were scored by players that were two of four changes made to the starting line-up, suggests that Guardiola could have a difficult task ahead of him when it comes to naming his starting line-up for Saturday’s Premier League clash with Southampton at the Etihad, which City will no doubt be hoping to use as another opportunity to keep both the scoreboard operator and stadium announcer busy.
However, deciding on who wins the battle for one position within his starting line-up may be easier than you think.
The position in question is the right-wing berth. Since the start of the season, Brazilian ace Jesus, surprisingly, has made it his own, delivering very impressive performances in the role against both Norwich and Arsenal. Considering that Mahrez had been flying in pre-season it came as quite a surprise that Guardiola made that decision, especially when the former had never really been considered as a winger.
Against Leipzig, Mahrez was given the chance to audition for the role. Although he got himself a goal, emphatically converting a penalty to net City’s third of the night, his performance, overall, was not one to write home about with too much fondness. The only memory that City’s fans will have about his performance will be the ear-bashing that he got from his manager in the early exchanges of the second half.
The Algerian, like fellow winger Grealish, was on the receiving end of stern ticking off, although it was almost certainly meant in a positive nature, for failing to track back and help out defensively. Guardiola was not impressed and the TV cameras, beaming the coverage across the globe, did not offer an alternative outlook.
Guardiola said: “We spoke at half-time about the way we have to do it and they didn’t do it. Fights happen.
“They are so good, they make four players in the build-up to attract you behind the holding midfielders where there aren’t a lot of players, where the ball goes outside and they are so fast when they attack in behind.”
Two of Leipzig’s three goals came from wide areas, meaning the blame will be pointed towards Mahrez and Grealish.
Mahrez, though, is likely to be the bigger loser than City’s club record-signing because of his errors, with Jesus breathing down his neck to reclaim the right-wing role on Saturday. To make matters worse, Jesus even clambered off the bench and got in on the act, netting the Blues’ sixth goal of the evening.
With that in mind, plus the fact that Jesus has contributed so impressively to City’s recent run of good form, you would probably bet your house on the Brazilian international returning to the starting line-up against Southampton.
Mahrez will learn from his Guardiola ear-bashing, and it most probably won’t be the last that he is on the end of, with the City chief constantly demanding the very best from every single member of his team.
The clash with Leipzig with Mahrez’s chance to reclaim his position – the role he has so often thrived in whilst wearing City colours – but he failed to make the most of it.