A 2-0 loss to Tottenham on Saturday confirmed Manchester City have got some serious problems in the final third.
This latest loss leaves the Citizens 13th in the Premier League, stuck in mid-table with their season yet to click into gear. What will be of greater concern to Pep Guardiola is that his side have scored just ten times in their first eight league matches.
So, where does Guardiola go from here in attempting to fix City’s stuttering attack?
Whereas Tottenham pair Harry Kane and Son Heung-min caused confusion in the City defence from the first whistle, the visitors barely seemed to stretch Spurs all game long.
Running off Kane, Son’s pace and intelligent movement unsettled Aymeric Laporte and Rúben Dias, who were never fully sure of their roles at the back.
Attacking trio Ferran Torres, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus were largely ineffective while the creative exploits of Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva were almost entirely absent, despite City having 66% of possession.
The fact that City mustered only five shots on target from 22 attempts on goal and a lion’s share of the ball highlights how much they miss David Silva. The ability of the Spaniard to drift into half-spaces unnoticed and pick out passes in an instant would be invaluable for a team that look pedestrian in attack.
Silva’s departure looked to have paved the way for Phil Foden to become a regular starter, but the England youngster has played a combined total of 27 minutes in the last three league games. With two of those matches coming against Tottenham and Liverpool, it seems Pep isn’t quite ready to put total trust in the 20-year-old.
City’s lack of pace in the final third has also not gone unnoticed. Torres and Mahrez are exceptional footballers, but their strengths do not lie in whizzing round the outside of full-backs.
The absence of a jet-heeled winger might not have been a problem for Guardiola if he had kept Leroy Sané. Since he was sold in the summer, the Germany international has made an electric start to life at Bayern Munich with three goals and two assists in his first six Bundesliga appearances.
Injuries have played their part, too. Sergio Agüero has only appeared twice in the Premier League so far this season because of hamstring and knee problems. Although Raheem Sterling is available, he never seems to be fully fit these days.
However, given Jürgen Klopp’s ability to get the best out of Liverpool, who have absentees in almost every position, injuries are not the only excuse. Guardiola has an attacking conundrum to solve because his side are simply not scoring as much as they used to.
In the last three Premier League seasons, two of which ended with City as champions, the lowest number of goals they have scored in a single campaign is 95. If they were to continue scoring at their current rate of 1.25 goals per game until the end of the season, they would finish with a paltry 47.
The below tweet from Opta also shows that creating chances has not suddenly become a problem for City. What their xG of 3.0 does demonstrate is that they have lost their clinical edge.
In Guardiola’s two title-winning campaigns, City were a ruthless goalscoring machine that teams struggled to stop. This season, they are struggling to score.
This leaves City eight points adrift of Tottenham and Liverpool, both of whom they have failed to beat in their past two fixtures, while Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea have also scored twice the number of goals that City have managed to this point.
The statistics make grim reading for Guardiola, who must quickly arrest this attacking slide. Otherwise, the Citizens are in danger of falling out of the title race before it has even begun.