football

Man City vs Tottenham: Pep Guardiola's side stuttering in Premier League... why?

Reigning champions Manchester City sit in second spot behind Arsenal and just two points divide the current top four - but why are Pep Guardiola's side stuttering this term?

City have dropped points in their last two Premier League games, drawing against Chelsea and Liverpool - and will host Tottenham on Sunday, with the prospect of dropping points in three successive games for the first time since Guardiola took charge at the start of 2016/17.

The omens aren't great, either: City have failed to beat Spurs in six of the last eight league meetings.

It is the second time the champions have, uncharacteristically, gone back-to-back league games without a win this season, following the defeats at Arsenal and Wolves.

Excluding the final two games of last season - when City had already secured the title and had one eye on the Champions League final - Guardiola's side have dropped points in consecutive, meaningful, Premier League games twice in the last nine weeks - having not previously done so since December, 2020.

But are these recent dropped points merely blips en route to a fourth successive Premier League title, or are they indicative of something more concerning? The underlying stats suggest City may have one or two reasons to worry, but also space for optimism.

City registered an expected goals figure of 1.36 against Liverpool last time out - the sixth time in 13 games this season in which they recorded under 1.5 xG. In both 2021/22 and last season, that was something they did only eight times, once every 4.8 games, on average. In three of the last seven games, City's xG has been under one - something that happened only once in their previous 26 games.

All that means that their current 10-game xG average is just under two - going back a year, that figure was consistently around the 2.4 mark, as displayed on the chart below.

Having Kevin De Bruyne unavailable for all but 23 minutes of the Premier League season so far has denied City of their chief creative force, which has undoubtedly dented the quality of their chances.

In seven of his first eight seasons at the club, De Bruyne set up more shots for team-mates than any other City player, only failing to do so in 2018/19, the previous time when an injury has seriously diminished his minutes on the pitch.

With a decline in expected goals and having been without their main creator, the fact City remain so close to leaders Arsenal and are still the top scorers in the division is testament to their clinical finishing. City outrank any other Premier League team this season for overperforming their expected goals - scoring nearly seven more than their xG total.

The seven players listed below have all scored 0.5 or more than their expected goals this season, while only Mateo Kovacic and Jack Grealish (both on no goals from 0.6 xG) have underperformed by any sort of margin for City.

There is also no reason for City fans to be concerned about the defence. Despite only keeping four clean sheets this season - four teams have kept more - City are still registering the fewest shots faced per game in the Premier League - as they have in all eight league campaigns under Guardiola.

However, with nine games scheduled in December, squad depth could potentially be an issue for City. Despite just four injury absentees against Liverpool last weekend - De Bruyne, Kovacic, Grealish and Matheus Nunes - City named only eight substitutes, including two goalkeepers and three outfield players who have not started a league game this season.

Guardiola opted to use none of his subs against Liverpool, the second time this season that had been the case - none of the other 19 Premier League teams have done so once. City have used their maximum allocation of five subs in only four league games this season - each time in a comfortable win with those four games seeing City clock up 17 goals to three conceded.

Despite making the second-most changes to his starting XI in the Premier League this season, Guardiola clearly favours rotating a smaller group: eight players have started 10 or more of City's 13 games this season, compared to six for Arsenal, six for Liverpool and four for Manchester Utd. Only Crystal Palace have made less use of their bench.

How do City secure an unprecedented fourth Premier League title come May amid the current wobble? Opta predict Guardiola's men will, indeed, achieve that feat. But City will need to avoid any further injuries to sustain their small but perfectly formed squad and maintain their clinical finishing and stubborn defending.

Watch Man City vs Tottenham live on Sky Sports' Super Sunday this weekend, kick-off 4.30pm. The game can also be streamed using a NOW TV pass.