Guardiola's overly complicated game plan is costing Manchester City points
MANCHESTER, England -- It says something when a £220 million summer spending spree -- more than half of which has been invested on new defenders -- results in a team playing their first home game of the season with a left winger asked to play as a wing-back. But that is the reality of Manchester City under Pep Guardiola at the start of the 2017-18 campaign.
In total, Guardiola has spent just short of £400m on new players since taking charge as manager in June 2016, but the tactical confusion continues to reign at City.
With recent arrival Danilo named on the substitutes' bench for the visit of Everton, Leroy Sane was given the task of patrolling the left flank ahead of the former Real Madrid defender; and with the visitors scoring from a move instigated down Sane's area of the pitch, it was clear that Guardiola's gamble was a mistaken one.
There are times watching Guardiola's City when it seems that the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach attempts to be too clever for the good of his team and himself. Nobody ever seems to know what they are doing in this City team, and that is perhaps a contributory factor in the problems that they experienced against Everton, when only a second-half equaliser by Raheem Sterling secured a point in a 1-1 draw.
City dominated possession and created 19 efforts on target (as opposed to seven by Everton), but just as they did on so many occasions last season, they either overplayed or overthought their attacking forays. The manager too often lacks clear, concise thinking, and that fault has transferred itself to the players, who could probably do with everything being just a little less complicated.
Guardiola, and his two predecessors Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini, have assembled a team of devastating attacking talent at the Etihad, but there is still a lack of balance that Guardiola is still no closer to addressing. But he at least acknowledged after this game that the fault lines of last season remain in need of attention.
"I prefer to win the game," he said. "We want to start good at home. We had chances again, but [Everton] had one on the target and they scored a goal.
"We create chances, before the goal, we made three or four. All we can do is try and make the chances."
Until Guardiola finds a way to resolve the problem up front, with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus struggling to form an effective partnership, City will encounter the same kind of problems they faced against Everton. The pair want to attack the same space and make the same runs, but behind them, David Silva finds one or the other dropping deeper in search of the ball in positions that he usually claims as his own.
Kevin De Bruyne, whose best position is as an attacking midfielder, played in a deeper role against Everton and, after an up-and-down first season under Guardiola, the Belgian once again failed to impose himself on the game as he often did under Pellegrini.
In Guardiola's defence, the loss of the sent-off Kyle Walker shortly before half-time did not help matters, but Everton were already finding holes in City's game plan by that stage.
The return to full fitness of Ilkay Gundogan may also prove a key factor, with the German likely to offer more natural defensive qualities than De Bruyne, but Gundogan's presence will do little to resolve the congestion problems further forward.
In the attacking positions, Guardiola must find a way to accommodate Aguero, Gabriel, Sane, Sterling, Silva, Bernardo Silva and, if they end up signing him from Arsenal before the transfer deadline, Alexis Sanchez. De Bruyne also figures in that equation because his strengths lie in the final third, and then there also is Yaya Toure to consider.
It is little wonder that Guardiola does not know his best team, but right now, he does not seem to know his best formation, either.
Across Manchester, Jose Mourinho has inspired United to an impressive start to the campaign by imposing a simple yet effective game plan, with few doubts over his strongest starting XI.
Until Guardiola gets himself into that position, City will continue to make life difficult for themselves by overcomplicating a simple game.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_