Manchester City is a great team. Everyone knows that. Pep Guardiola has had a massive impact at the club, and their work in the final third has been sizzling at times. Defensively, the statistics say that City have been good. But fewer goals conceded are not a sign of elite defending, at least not in the pure sense. Let us take a look.
After 18 league games this season, City have conceded 13 goals, keeping eight clean sheets in the process. Both these numbers have been bettered only by Liverpool who tally seven and 11 in the respective categories. Guardiola’s backline faces 6.9 shots per game, which is the lowest in the division. On the face of it, Manchester City appear to be really good defensively.
Let us build from the basics here. What is a sign of good defending? Conceding as few goals as possible. To do this, two things have to be done. The team needs to face shots on goal which are lesser in number and quality. Secondly, the goalkeeper and defenders have to execute saves and blocks to prevent the goals.
Quantity of shots faced
Consider the first part. As mentioned above, City certainly excel at facing fewer shots. Compared to the 6.9 which they face per game, the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea face 8.3 and 9.1 respectively. But isn’t the quality of shots faced more important? Consider that one team allows 10 shots from within the six-yard area, and another allows 20 shots, but all from outside the box. In most, if not all cases, the second will be rightly considered the better defensive unit even though it has conceded more shots. You get the idea.
Quality of shots faced
Now the measure for quality of a shot is expected goals(xG). City’s xG against this season is 14.10, which is the lowest in the league. That’s good, right? But this number needs to be taken into perspective. A better measure is the xG per each shot faced, which will tell us the quality of each shot which the team faces on average. Take a look.
Yikes. That is not encouraging reading. This stat is a pretty good indicator of how good a team is at smothering attacks. Teams like Burnley, Brighton, and Newcastle have a better xG per shot faced than Manchester City. It means that when the opposition has possession and launches an attack, City are not that good at preventing a chance coming from it.
Now, preventing attacks and possession in the final third from the opposition is one of the major parts of City’s game. Their average possession is a whopping 64.1% this season. Most of the teams are afforded few inroads to Ederson’s goal. City press hard after losing possession and their opposition gets few touches in the final third.
But it seems as though City are not that good at negating the few opportunities they give away to their opponents. This tells that they are not an elite team in terms of the purely defensive tasks. These include tackling, man-marking, dealing with crosses, defensive positioning, jockeying, and so much more. They are still better than most, mind you. But for a team gunning to be the best in Europe, that should not be enough.
Conclusion: City can do better
With regards to preventing the shots taken from being converted, City are nowhere near the best. They have conceded 13 league goals, improving by just 1.1 in on their xG against of 14.1. This tells us that Ederson can do better, and so can the defenders. In comparison, Liverpool have bettered their xGA by 7.34. Even teams like Newcastle and Brighton have bettered it by 6.2 and 3.75 respectively.
Ederson and Kyle Walker have given away three cheap penalties, and City have conceded four goals from headed (or ‘shoulder’) attempts this season. That’s seven from the 13 conceded and presents some areas which can be improved greatly. That being said, the addition of Aymeric Laporte has helped immensely and John Stones has also matured considerably.
Manchester City is still a good defensive team. But they can do better, especially at the basics. If the recent lack of clean sheets continues, they will face problems. Especially in the Champions League, where technically-adept teams await them. Maybe Guardiola can do better, maybe it’s the players who need to step up. But to achieve the goal of ruling supreme in England and Europe, they have got to defend better.
As Fabian Delph said after the 3-2 loss against neighbours United last April: “Just remember the basics.”
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