City, who have won four of the last five Premier League seasons, lose very few matches. This season, for example, the Blues have lost just three of their opening 18 top-flight games. In Europe, meanwhile, they cruised through their Champions League group and secured their place in the knockout stages without losing once.
It is, then, somewhat of a shock whenever the referee blows his whistle for full-time and City have not won the game, never mind lost it. Against Manchester United at the weekend, Guardiola&aposs men could easily have turned up at Old Trafford and secured another comfortable derby victory – much like they did in October. However, as it turned out, Erik ten Hag&aposs side were worthy winners.
When Jack Grealish opened the scoring for the away side in the second half, there was a feeling, amongst many, that City would go on and win the game comfortably. Yet, while United&aposs equaliser was controversial and contentious, it had certainly been coming. The home side&aposs winner, meanwhile, came as even less of a shock.
Guardiola often appears to be the smartest person in the room, and more often than not, he probably is. However, the decision to only make one substitution against Ten Hag&aposs side came as a surprise to the majority of City supporters, especially given the options he had on his bench, coupled with the fact that the Blues&apos attacking stars were so disappointing in the tie.
The one substitution Guardiola made clearly worked, with Grealish coming off the bench to score the opening goal of the game. Yet, with Erling Haaland and Riyad Mahrez both failing to register a shot on target, it was a shock to see the pair remain on the pitch for the full 90 minutes – despite the goal threat they both possess.
Julian Alvarez, a striker who had impressed in a blue shirt prior to the World Cup, was left on the bench. The 22-year-old – who registered four goals and an assist for Argentina in Qatar – returned from the Middle East ahead of schedule and featured in City&aposs draw with Everton. When he came on, the striker played alongside Haaland in a front two.
Asked earlier this month whether Alvarez&aposs return as a World Champion could lead to more opportunities to play a deliberate front two, Guardiola didn&apost rule out the possibility.
“In the last minutes, after 1-1, we put him in the centre of goal in the box. That is why he played,” Guardiola explained. “He only rested 10 days, which is not much after the World Cup final.
“It can happen [Haaland and Alvarez playing together]. The ball arrives there [in the box] and you have two strikers there so you can score a goal. But to create these chances we have to make the process and sometimes for that you need other types of players to create these chances.
“If I had the feeling we were creating these chances, and you have two or three in the box, that is top. But maybe you are there with Haaland and all the processes arent correct and we have a lot of people up front, we have more transitions and after we have a problem. But of course they can play together especially against five at the back.”
Arsenal currently have an eight-point lead of City at the top of the Premier League table, and the Gunners aren&apost showing any signs of slowing down. There is a realistic possibility that the Blues go on a winning run and manage to close the gap on the London outfit, but if they are to do that, Guardiola might have to be more bold with the substitutions he does make.
Considering Haaland&aposs goal record this season, it wasn&apost a surprise that Guardiola left the Norwegian on the pitch against United at the weekend. It was, however, strange that the Spaniard made just one change when his side were crying out for more creativity at the top end of the pitch.
It could prove to be the case that two up front is not the answer for City, and Alvarez might have to settle for a role off the bench in the coming games. However, with little room for error as the Blues look to hunt Arsenal down, Haaland is under immense pressure to deliver, but Alvarez is more than capable of helping on that front. If not Alvarez, changes still have to be made when it is clear the team is crying out for them.