Supporters thought the question ‘what is wrong with Manchester City?’ had been consigned to the history books.
Once associated with the men’s team, the question has now raised its ugly head on the women’s side. This season, the City girls have struggled to make an impact. Last weekend’s victory at Leicester, their second WSL win this season, has now been followed by another defeat. It looks like that win was more of a false dawn than a new beginning.
What has happened since the opening day of the season?
It started off so well
It was a glorious, sunny September afternoon when Gareth Taylor let his new look City loose at Goodison Park. They had a few injuries, most notably Ellie Roebuck, Lucy Bronze, and long-term absentee Chloe Kelly. However, 45 minutes later, City were in complete control.
They were 3-0 up thanks to goals from debutants Vicky Losada, Bunny Shaw, plus the ever-dependable Janine Beckie. Steph Houghton added a fourth, and the team walked away 4-0 winners. Even with injuries, and with Alanna Kennedy, Ruby Mace and Filippa Angeldal still to feature, the future was looking so rosy for City and manager Gareth Taylor.Embed from Getty Images
Fast forward to 14 November and City’s journey has taken a nightmare turn. Failure to reach the Champions League group stage. Beaten in successive matches by Spurs and West Ham. A 5-0 hammering at Arsenal sandwiched in between, and a 2-2 draw at United. This has seen the Blues drop from title contenders to 12 points behind the leaders. And two defeats to Chelsea have followed, both without scoring while allowing the Londoners the freedom to play.
What is wrong with Manchester City that has seen such a serious dip in form?
Injuries have played a small part
Any manager, whether men’s or women’s team, would be heartbroken when looking at City’s injury list. With Kelly already absent, City could have done without losing Roebuck, considering her number two is currently out on loan. As well as a keeper crisis, City’s backline has been decimated. Bronze is still recovering following surgery after the Olympics, and Houghton injured on international duty. Esme Morgan is another long-term casualty, which means Beckie, Jill Scott or both having to take on defensive duties.
Such is City’s injury list that Taylor could only name five substitutes for Sunday’s FA Cup match against Chelsea. Injuries obviously play a part, but the core of the team that pushed Chelsea so far last season is still there. Ellen White, Laura Coombs, Keira Walsh, Caroline Weir, Lauren Hemp, Demi Stokes, Beckie et al are all still at the club, so why are they just not performing?
The issue for City goes a lot deeper than just the playing personnel.
Where is the confidence?
Confidence plays a huge factor in how the team progress, and right now, you wouldn’t find any at the Academy Stadium, and it shows in the team.
Against Chelsea in the FA Cup, City’s defence were nervous and hesitant. Hurried play, almost like they just wanted the ball anywhere but their own penalty area, contributed to their downfall. This would be standard against a team like Chelsea but shouldn’t be the case for City. Too often in the area, the Blues were falling over each other to try and clear. When they did, it wasn’t good enough, as demonstrated by Chelsea’s second goal, which was a catalogue of errors.
Demi Stokes’ headed clearance was not effective, Weir and Coombs hesitant and Taieb in the City goal beaten at her near post. Taieb moved late, failed to see the danger and it saw City punished again.
It was the second error from the keeper, and it was clear she is playing without confidence. Erin Cuthbert’s shot should have been saved, but it sailed mercilessly through the hands of Taieb. The third goal, saw caught in two minds – come and collect or wait and make the save. In the end, she did neither as Bethany England chose where she wanted to plant her header.Embed from Getty Images
What must Roebuck, watching from the stands and clutching a hot water bottle, have been thinking? The young England keeper inspires confidence in the team, and when the keeper is confident, so are the defence. Taieb has looked jittery, almost expecting to concede goals, so the defence are trying to compensate, but in doing so, they are making matters worse.
Against Leicester, City looked like the Blues of old. Confident going forward and for the most part, solid at the back, and the Blues looked like regaining their status as one of the division’s top teams. But Leicester are a side equally low on confidence, and City just had a little too much for them.
However, playing the bottom side, who had lost all their games to date, was not a measure of whether or not City’s form was returning. That would be tested against the current WSL champions. Yet, even after going behind in the first minute in the league encounter against Chelsea on Sunday, City rallied and could have been level long before Sam Kerr scored the visitors second on the stroke of half time.
But it just shows what a lack of confidence can do. Chelsea came out firing in the second half, grabbed another two goals and City had no answer as they fell back to square one and must once again pick up the pieces.
Tactics? What tactics?
Taylor has been lamented on many occasions this season on his lack of tactics, and he carries the look of a manager devoid of ideas.
Yes, injuries have played a part, but he seems to go into every match with the same game plan, regardless of the opposition. It’s almost like he doesn’t consider what the opposition might do. Emma Hayes admitted she got her tactics wrong in the first half, so at half-time, she changed things and Chelsea ran out 4-0 winners.
If Taylor could do that himself, the result could have been very different. However, he seems to lack the tactical nouse that can often be the difference between success and failure.
The future of Gareth Taylor
It’s hard to see how Gareth Taylor can survive this. He had big shoes to fill after Nick Cushing left, yet his first full season gave the feeling his reign would be successful. His side ran Chelsea all the way, going toe to toe with the eventual champions, and the signs were there. All is fine when there are no problems, but it’s how a manager reacts when there are issues.
Taylor just hasn’t reacted to the situation and has persisted in the same manner, the same tactics. It’s not working, and he seems unable to change it. He simply cannot see what is wrong with Manchester City and the Blues may well need to rectify Taylor’s situation soon, before it’s too late.
As for the question what is wrong with Manchester City? It is most likely never to be answered.