Another Season, Another Slump, But Can Man City Recover As Quickly As Usual?

Published on 14 October 2023 at 20:00

Having suffered back-to-back Premier League losses for the first time since December 2018, as well as a premature exit from the Carabao Cup against Newcastle United, the 'annual' Man City down period has appeared to come earlier than expected this year: but can Pep Guardiola's side recover as quickly as they usually do, or are the inevitable cracks finally starting to show in the reigning English and European champions?


As Gabriel Martinelli's late winner gave Arsenal a first league win over Manchester City since 2015, it also consigned the Cityzens to their first pair of back-to-back league losses since December 2018.


To put that into perspective, all of the other Premier League clubs (excluding Roberto De Zerbi's Brighton) have endured back-to-back league losses in 2023 alone. Back in December 2018, football hadn't yet got through the lockdown and pandemic era, Erling Haaland was yet to truly announce himself on the global stage whilst at Molde, and Jose Mourinho still had as many titles as the rest of the Premier League's then managers combined. 


It's a testament to just how impressive Pep Guardiola's side is: even as the average quality of Premier League sides is perhaps better than it has ever been over the last 30 years, Manchester City still found a way time and time again to avoid those grand declines and upsets that so often plagues clubs towards the top of the table. 


But the 2023/24 season feels different for Manchester City, and their form and quality of play doesn't yet seem befitting of the seemingly-inevitable Club World Champions. Currently sat in third position in the Premier League at the time of writing, a 1-0 home win against Newcastle and midfield masterclass from Phil Foden has been the defining win of their season so far, but aside from that game and the recent loss to Arsenal, Man City are yet to face any of the other 'Big Six' clubs who are out to derail their season, or have a game of truly mammoth proportions that would justify their on-pitch struggles. So just why does it appear to be going a bit awry at the Etihad?


Read More: Will Kalvin Phillips EVER Become Good At Manchester City?


Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan's departures in the Summer have left gaping holes in experience and clutch mentality that few players in the world today can match, and the absence of Kevin de Bruyne due to injury has led to a relatively poor creative output that is starving the aforementioned Haaland with the opportunities he needs.


Meanwhile defensive midfielder Rodri has perhaps shown himself to be the most important player in all of world football, as this Manchester City look completely lost without the man who scored the winning goal in June's Champions League final. As tempers flared against Nottingham Forest and the Spanish international got himself sent off for violent conduct, the massive void Rodri has left over the past few games is one that even two excellent midfielders would struggle to fill, let alone Kalvin Phillip's notably pitiful attempts to do so on his own.


Of course, we must remind ourselves that this is Pep Guardiola's Manchester City: the treble winners and Premier League 'threepeat' achievers: slow starts and unforeseen slumps shouldn't seem like anything new before the sky blue side of Manchester steamrolls its way to success. Back in the 2020/21 campaign, they had just 15 points from their first 9 games and were sat in 13th place, before accruing 47 from their next 51 available points to blow Manchester United, Liverpool et al completely out of the water.


If it was never really in doubt then, should it really be in doubt now?


When the new year comes around, Kevin De Bruyne returns from injury and we enter the real business portion of the Champions League campaign, then we will no doubt see the return of the imperious Manchester City we all know and fear, but these next two and a half months of the season in the Premier League, Champions League and Club World Cup has never looked like a more crucial period for Manchester City to perform in. 


The damage that could be dealt to not only their domestic title hopes, but their aura and formidability on the continent in the eyes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and more, could be so much that not even another mammoth winning streak could revive it.


By Jaspar Shepherdson 

(@jasparshepmedia on Instagram and X/Twitter)

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