MANCHESTER CITY HAVE A MENTALITY PROBLEM
Pep Guardiola and his staff believe there is a lack of belief among the squad that has held them back in the biggest away games this season
There is a problem with the Manchester City squad, one that cannot simply be fixed by signing new players.
It is almost an expectation that the fundamental problems which have held back City’s progress under Pep Guardiola this season – fragility in goal and at the back, a failure to convert chances – can be and will be remedied in the transfer market.
Despite Txiki Begiristain’s generally poor acquisitions over the years, his dealings since the summer of 2015 have been more encouraging. The arrivals of Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus in particular have persuaded the more optimistic City fans that the club will be able to secure significant upgrades on many of their current players.
That is why the Guardiola era is finally expected to kick off next season.
But there is another issue which is altogether harder to fix, and one which will have to be corrected for City to really get where they want to be.
Guardiola has identified a mentality issue within his squad.
City’s away record in the Premier League is second only to Chelsea’s, but when it comes to the biggest games they have been poor.
Since beating Manchester United back in September, thanks to an especially convincing first-half performance, City have not won at any of their rivals for the European places, losing at Spurs, Liverpool and Everton and drawing at Arsenal on Sunday despite taking the lead twice.
City did not win any of their away games in the Champions League, either, and it was the defeat at Monaco last month which most alarmed Guardiola.
The Catalan took responsibility for his side’s European exit, but said his players “forgot to do what we normally do”. After the Arsenal game he revisited the theme: “After the first half when we scored a goal we forgot a little bit to play.”
Guardiola has spent his time in England stressing the importance of attacking football to his players. As well as it being his core principle, he also believes his squad is built to attack, certainly not to defend. He told his players before Monaco that the best way to protect their aggregate lead was to attack. They sat back.
Sources close to the Catalan and his coaching staff believe there is a lack of belief among the squad.
“I think it’s one of the things we most have to improve,” he said Tuesday. “We react when we are in the bad moments. When everything is lost we [show] the best of our game. But to be proactive as much as we possibly can, to have a leading role in the game, we have to change.”