Dubai: For a team who were humiliated by newly promoted Norwich City, the vibes coming out of Manchester are nothing but positive.
Coach Pep Guardiola insists he “loves” his players and the 3-2 loss at Carrow Road was just a blip. Playmaker Kevin De Bruyne says the five-point gap to league leaders Liverpool is no sweat this early in the season, and striker Sergio Aguero insists, if he keeps banging in the goals, City will retain the title.
However, those five points are an issue, even this early in the season, and here are five things City need to address to overcome that deficit to the Reds.
1. Shore up defence
The loss of Aymeric Laporte was always going to be bad news. But every defence in the league looks shaky this season, with clean sheets a rarity, even for Virgil Van Dijk’s back four at Anfield. Pep has promised to help out Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones in the interim during a Champions League week to give them the confidence they had alongside departed captain Vincent Kompany during the last two terms. Seems simple enough when your boss has supreme confidence in his players.
2. Back up for Sergio
Gabriel Jesus is beginning to stick out like a sore thumb as Sergio and Raheem Sterling continue to score but his contribution does not match up. Raheem has come on leaps and bounds in the past two years, notching up 53 goals and almost as many assists. Aguero is the club’s all-time leading scorer and on the scoresheet almost every week. Jesus, by comparison, has 28 goals in 70 appearances. Given the supply and service provided to him by Messrs Bernardo and David Silva, plus De Bruyne, those statistics need to rise sharply or Guardiola will be looking for a replacement come December.
3. Age-old problem
Kompany has gone. David Silva has confirmed this is his last season in the Sky Blue shirt. Fernandinho’s bones are creaking. City need new blood in the centre of the park if they are to sustain their momentum and secure three in a row in England and land that elusive Champions League title their owners so covet.
4. Can the complacency
Every City fan that went to Carrow Road on Saturday assumed three points were in the bag. This is the danger of racking up 100 points a campaign. When you expect to stroll through a match and stroll away with three points every week, some little tyke will end up biting you. Teams such as Norwich, Sheffield and Bournemouth are fighting for their lives to stay in the top flight and title contenders such as City need to know that they will fight tooth and nail to take anything off the heavyweights.
5. Play on others’ fears
One thing City have to their advantage is the history of tenacity and to never give up. Last season they clawed back nine points on Liverpool and if they can smile their way through these next few weeks, those little seeds of doubt will creep back in at Anfield as they dread to think of missing out on the title for a 30th year, having been in the driving seat so early.