On Sunday afternoon, against Everton, Manchester City had just over 70 per cent possession, seven more shots than the opposition; 864 touches compared to 457; 674 passes as opposed to 274 and yet Pep Guardiola suffered his worst ever league defeat as a manager, losing 4-0.
These stats are the product of Guardiola’s favoured tippy tappy style of playing the game. He is a manager obsessed with keeping possession of the ball and building slowly from the back, which is all very well and good but if there is no goal at the end of it, it is a futile and extremely frustrating exercise.
Everton, who played brilliant counter-attacking football, only had four shots on target and they scored from each one of them.
Every time Pep’s way of playing football goes wrong, as it did at Goodison Park in shambolic fashion, it increases the intensity of the spotlight glaring down on a man who probably for the first time in his managerial career had to listen to chants of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ from Everton fans.
That clearly is not going to happen although I wonder whether Guardiola might now be having second thoughts about taking the City job and the unique challenges of the Premier League which is turning out to be a bit more problematic than he is used to or imagined. City started the game brightly enough and could have taken the lead but they rely too much on Sergio Aguero and he looked a yard off the pace.
Raheem Sterling was lively but never really threatened the goal, Kevin De Bruyne went missing and Yaya Toure was a passenger in midfield. And that brings me to what can loosely be described as a defence. In a word, City’s back line is pathetic. Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy struggled, Nicolas Otamendi was, as usual, beaten for pace, and John Stones continues to look out of his depth.
In case you haven’t guessed or read my rants before, I have been a City fan since I was a kid and have spoken about the goalkeeper Claudio Bravo before and there is nothing left for me to say about him except ‘why is he still in the team?’ and plead with Guardiola to get rid ASAP.
Strong defences win titles which is why City’s bid looks to be over, as Pep himself admitted. We are only just over half way through the season but to overthrow Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, and an improving Man United, playing the kind of football that worked in Spain and Germany but not in the far more competitive environment of the EPL is mission impossible.
Some will start to suggest that Guardiola has been found out and at times on Merseyside he did wear the blank expression of a man struggling to come up with ideas.
However, that doesn’t mean he has lost the plot. He did a brilliant job at Barcelona and rewrote the football tactics book with many teams now copying his style and he did well enough at Bayern Munich, but the fact remains that at the moment, he doesn’t appear to have a Plan B for City.
His main problem is the team he inherited. Up front and in midfield, with the exception of Toure who no longer looks like a game changer, he has real talent but he must now rebuild the defence.
City are a wealthy club and he has to be given the money to buy at least two new defenders, a goalkeeper and maybe even freshen up the strike force. If they don’t, Pep’s first season in the Premier League will be a failure and as good as he might be, his reputation will be questioned.
The January transfer window is often looked down upon as the ugly sister of the summer window, with those glorious two months of negotiating time in July and August – not to mention the pre-negotiations in June – often leading to better value in the market.
However, January transfers can still bear fruit; here are 10 deals that show it can be just as successful as the summer window for unearthing gems.
CHRISTOPHE DUGARRY (Bordeaux to Birmingham City, 2003)
In the January transfer window of 2003, Birmingham were in need of a talisman to come save them from the drop. That man was Dugarry.
The World Cup winner, only the second to play for The Blues, enjoyed a ‘purple patch’ in which he scored five goals in a run of four games following his loan move from Ligue 1 side Bordeaux. His goals helped Birmingham avoid relegation, lifting them from up to 13th place and cementing their Premier League status for the following season.
During the summer, after avoiding relegation, Dugarry signed on a permanent deal. However, he didn’t return with the same impact. He played just 15 games of the 2003-04 and scored just once, leaving for Qatar. Still, Dugarry has since been inducted into Birmingham’s Hall of Fame.
MIKEL ARTETA (Real Sociedad to Everton, 2005)
Real Sociedad bought Mikel Arteta in the summer of 2004 with the idea of the Spaniard lining up alongside Xabi Alonso in their midfield. However, Alonso soon left for Liverpool and Arteta failed to establish himself in the team.
Six months later, aged 22, he joined Everton on loan for the remainder of the 2004-05 season, with the option of a permanent deal. He settled in straight away and helped Everton finish fourth in the league, securing Champions League football for the Toffees.
After a positive contribution during the second half of the season, David Moyes opted to take up the option to buy Arteta, for just Dhs8.95 million (£2m). The silky Spaniard went on to become a fan-favourite at Goodison Park, winning Everton’s Players’ Player award in both the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.
Having played in Merseyside for six-and-a-half-years, Arteta made the switch to Arsenal in 2011 in a deal worth Dhs45 million (£10m).
PATRICE EVRA (Monaco to Manchester United, 2006)
Patrice Evra completed a Dhs31.5 million (£7m) move to Manchester United during January of 2006. Prior to the deal’s completion, it was said Monaco had agreed a fee with Inter Milan to take the Frenchman back to Italy, but Evra only had eyes for Old Trafford.
His career at United had an inauspicious start; Evra had problems adapting to English football and was hauled off at half-time of his debut in a Manchester derby.
Despite his early struggles, Evra went on to become a mainstay of the side, playing a major role in one of the most successful Manchester United sides in history. Along with five Premier League titles, five Community Shields, three League Cups and a Champions League title, Evra was elected into three Premier League Teams of the Season and a UEFA Team of The Year in 2009.
During the summer of 2014, a year after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, Evra left for Juventus for a fee of just Dhs6.75 million (£1.5m).
NEMANJA VIDIC (Spartak Moscow to Manchester United, 2006)
After spells in both Serbia and Russia, Vidic made his first big move to the Premier League during January 2006 when he signed for Manchester United for Dhs32 million (£7.2m). Despite interest from Liverpool and Fiorentina, Vidic opted for United – arriving at the same time as Patrice Evra.
The Serbian spent eight years in Manchester, where he was regarded as one of the Premier League’s best defenders, becoming a firm fan-favourite for his aggressive and assured performances as he built one of the most impressive central-defensive partnerships in recent memory alongside Rio Ferdinand.
Like Evra, Vidic was also recognised for his success outside of Manchester. The centre-back won a string of personal accolades, including being elected into the Premier League Team of the Year four times and named the Premier League Player of the Season twice.
He ended his eight-year association with the club in the summer of 2014, joining Inter Milan following the expiration of his contract.
CLINT DEMPSEY (New England Revolution to Fulham, 2007)
Fulham signed Clint Dempsey from New England Revolution in 2007, the attacker becoming the club’s third American alongside Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra. The fee of Dhs8.95 million (£2m) was a record sale from an MLS side at the time.
Dempsey’s first goal came in a 1-0 win over Liverpool, a strike that would prove crucial as the Cottagers secured their top-flight status against the odds, while his goals during Fulham’s Europa League run in 2009-10 helped Roy Hodgson’s side reach the final.
The USA international, who has earned 130 caps for his country, went on to be Fulham’s top scorer in three of the next five seasons. Despite opening contract talks with Martin Jol in early 2012, Dempsey opted to join Tottenham Hotspur during the summer.
ASHLEY YOUNG (Watford to Aston Villa, 2007)
Difficult to believe as it is, Ashley Young was once dubbed ‘England’s answer to Lionel Messi’ after impressing coming through the youth ranks at Watford.
He first came to prominence during the 2004-05 season; Watford struggled in the Championship but Young played over 30 league games and claimed the Young Player of the Season award. After a couple of impressive seasons, he made the switch to Villa – the Dhs36 million (£8m) move the club’s record transfer fee at the time.
Young started his first full season at Villa well under Martin O’Neill, so much so just a month into the season he received his first international call up for two of England’s EURO 2008 qualifiers.The Englishman’s performances continued to impress as he helped Villa to three consecutive sixth-place finishes in the league.
Having spent four years at Villa Park, Young then completed a move worth just under Dhs90 million (£20m) to Manchester United.
LUIS SUAREZ (Ajax to Liverpool, 2011)
Perhaps the greatest January window signing ever, Luis Suarez made his move to Liverpool in a deal worth Dhs100 million (£22.5m) in 2011, just six months after an eventful World Cup with Uruguay had seen him sent off for deliberate handball against Ghana.
Despite an incredible record of 89 goals in 110 league games for Ajax, not many Liverpool fans predicted what would come next.
The Uruguayan became a hero at Anfield and came close to leading the Reds to the Premier League title during the 2013-14 season, though his 33 goals and 21 assists weren’t enough as Manchester City pipped them to the title. It proved to be Suarez’s final season in red, as he switched to Barcelona for a fee of Dhs336 million (£75m) after another eventful World Cup.
He didn’t come without controversy, a ban for racial abuse and several biting incidents somewhat tainting his reputation, but Suarez has gone on to become one of the best footballers in the world.
GARY CAHILL (Bolton to Chelsea, 2012)
Chelsea signed Gary Cahill in 2012 for Dhs31 million (£7m) – a move that played a role in consigning former club Bolton to relegation. Cahill, on the other hand, won his first piece of silverware just months into life with Chelsea, capping off the season with the club’s first ever Champions League and an FA Cup.
Cahill’s stock rose as he progressively played more league games, building a strong partnership with John Terry and becoming an automatic starter for England.
The 31-year-old has been included in the Premier League Team of the Year twice – first in 2014-14 and then in 2014-15 as Chelsea won both the Premier League and the League Cup.
DANIEL STURRIDGE (Chelsea to Liverpool, 2013)
Despite his injury woes, Daniel Sturridge can still be considered a ‘hit’ since his move from Stamford Bridge to Anfield in 2013.
Sturridge had spells at both Manchester City and Chelsea, but was generally used as a bit-part player. He began to really flourish at Liverpool and in the 2013-14 season forged a deadly partnership with Luis Suarez – the Englishman contributing to 31 goals across the season.
Injuries have hindered his time at Liverpool, but his goals-to-game ratio is still impressive and he has contributed eight goals in 15 games in 2016-17.
RIYAD MAHREZ (Le Havre to Leicester, 2014)
Riyad Mahrez made his move to Leicester City in 2014 in strange circumstances. Steve Walsh, then a scout with Leicester, had been attending Le Havre’s games as he casted a close eye on winger Ryan Mendes, but instead, was impressed by Mahrez.
The Algerian joined the Foxes for just Dhs1.9m (£425k) and went on to win the Championship with them in his first season, gaining promotion to the Premier League.
Leicester were within touching distance of relegation during his first full season with the club, but seven wins in their final nine games saw them secure top-flight football for a successive season.
Then Leicester, helped by a magnificent season from Mahrez, pulled off the unimaginable. He contributed 27 goals across the 2015-16 season, as the Foxes defied the odds and won the Premier League. Mahrez’s season was so good, in fact, he won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and was nominated for the Ballon d’Or – coming seventh in the voting.
Liverpool are entering a crucial period over the next four weeks which will help to form a clearer idea of their title challenging credentials.
Beginning with Sunday’s visit to Manchester United, the Reds will take in clashes with Chelsea and Tottenham in the next month and I feel they need to get at least seven points from the nine on offer if they are going to keep pace at the top.
Although United are in red-hot form having won nine straight, Jurgen Klopp’s men have the necessary quality, particularly in attack, to get a vital victory and reverse their recent poor form at Old Trafford which has seen them lose 11 from their last 14 visits there.
We’ve shown we can win against the big sides after beating Chelsea away and Manchester City at home so we are well capable of doing it again in Manchester. But even a draw would be a good result.
If you look at where those seven points could come from, a draw at United and wins at home to Chelsea and Spurs look more than feasible.
However, if they are serious about ending a 27-year wait for a league triumph, then they need to be producing against the top sides.
Losing Sadio Mane to the African Cup of Nations is a huge blow, though. He has been outstanding since he signed in the summer and he offers a different set of qualities to the rest of the attack – pace. He runs beyond the byline and produces quality when he cuts inside, utilising electric movement, both in attack and in defence, to add an extra dimension.
But Klopp’s side have proven already this season they can cope without their key protagonists with Adam Lallana a perfect example of someone who has stepped up in the absence of another after Philippe Coutinho’s spell on the sidelines with injury.
Personally, I have to say I thought the Brazilian would have been a bigger miss than what has transpired. But we’ve continued to score a lot of goals without him and the productivity in our attacking play has still been high in his absence which was a bit of a surprise.
It goes to show the squad depth is there but you can always strengthen. If you look at the bench recently, there’s been some youngsters coming into the fold and that suggests there’s a need for more experience.
There are areas which need addressing – a centre midfielder, striker maybe even a centre-half but Klopp is not someone who will quickly open the cheque book.
As a manager who likes to shape players to adopt his system and style of play, the January window may not suit him but if there’s an opportunity to bolster the squad then the positions I’ve identified are where he’s likely to be looking.
If that player isn’t there, I don’t think he will panic because on the whole the squad is in a good shape and we’ll see the fruits of that over the next few weeks.
Former Liverpool midfielder Jason McAteer provides expert football analysis for beIN Sport.