VAR ‘could drive Pep away from Premier League’

Manchester Evening News - - FRONT PAGE - By STU­ART BREN­NAN

CITY played well at Liverpool in many ways - but lost the game.

And that, in it­self, is a con­cern for Pep Guardi­ola as his team gazes across the gulf of a nine-point gap.

The Blues are more than ca­pa­ble of putting to­gether a run which would close that, es­pe­cially as Jur­gen Klopp’s team surely can­not main­tain the same form lev­els and luck with in­juries.

But the de­feat at An­field threw a sharp fo­cus on three big is­sues which have trou­bled City all sea­son.

If they are to over­haul their ri­vals in the league, or at least take their Cham­pi­ons League crown off them, these are three press­ing prob­lems for Guardi­ola...

MID­FIELD MALAISE

CITY’S big­gest ad­van­tage over Liverpool for the last two sea­sons has been a su­pe­rior mid­field. That was not ev­i­dent at An­field, where Fabinho, Ge­orginio Wijnaldum and Jor­dan Hen­der­son out-shone Rodri, Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gun­do­gan.

It did not help that De Bruyne was played in such an ad­vanced po­si­tion, negat­ing his abil­ity to spring at­tacks from deep with strong run­ning and ac­cu­rate pass­ing. But David Silva’s pow­ers ap­pear to be on the wane, and Phil Fo­den is still not at the same level as the Spa­niard.

It is more about a re­turn to a set­tled for­ma­tion and the re­dis­cov­ery of form - but they need both fast.

DE­FEND­ERS WHO DE­FEND GUARDI­OLA’S phi­los­o­phy on his de­fend­ers is bold but proven - he places their at­tack­ing prow­ess above their de­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The fact that has brought a bag­ful of tro­phies to City shows he gets it right - his back four, and goal­keeper, usu­ally en­sure they are on the front foot. But when teams get at them, de­fen­sive frail­ties are there for all to see - Liverpool have ex­posed them re­peat­edly.

That has been the big­gest stum­bling block in Europe as well, where shrewd, counter-at­tack­ing teams have per­sis­tently thwarted the Blues, al­beit on the away goals rule.

City’s only nat­u­ral de­fend­ers are Ni­co­las Ota­mendi, who has been in poor form, and Aymeric La­porte who is also an ex­cel­lent of­fen­sive cen­tre-back - who is in­jured.

The Blues are not plan­ning to spend in Jan­uary, but they have two young play­ers in Eric Gar­cia and Tay­lor Har­wood-Bellis who per­form both func­tions well - their ma­tu­rity can­not come quickly enough for the Blues.

STRIKE BACK

LIVERPOOL had seven at­tempts on goal, five of them were on tar­get and three hit the net. City had 15 at­tempts, only three on tar­get, and just one was suc­cess­ful.

Con­sid­er­ing they have two of the most pro­lific strik­ers in Premier League history in Ser­gio Aguero and Gabriel Je­sus, and an­other ris­ing goalscor­ing tal­ent in Ra­heem Ster­ling, that is not good enough.

City cre­ate more chances than any­one, and when they hit the groove, they blow teams away.

The prob­lem comes in tight games, when they rarely man­age to do what Liverpool do, and take a lim­ited num­ber of chances clin­i­cally.

That is key to win­ning the Cham­pi­ons League and to tak­ing three points against the top Premier League sides.

City man­ager Pep Guardi­ola

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