Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City are creating enough chances despite the startling drop-off in their goalscoring prowess.
City drew a blank for a second consecutive Premier League away game as Saturday’s derby against Manchester United at Old Trafford ended in a forgettable 0-0 draw.
Their 17 goals from the first 11 top-flight games of the campaign is the club’s worst return at this stage since 2010-11, when they had 15 under Roberto Mancini.
In terms of goals per game, City tally 1.5 at present. During the Guardiola era – dating back to 2016-17 – they have never averaged below 2.1 over the course of a Premier League season.
Nevertheless, Guardiola was keen to point to good openings at the weekend where Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez had shots blocked, with Gabriel Jesus also hooking over on the half-volley before half-time.
Asked if there was a way to fix City’s problems, he replied: “Yeah, put the ball to the goal. This is the solution.
“We create a lot so far. We know we have to improve.”
Action from today’s draw at Old Trafford
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 12, 2020
In terms of shots per game (15.3), shots on target per game (5.1) and shot conversion rate (10.1 per cent), City are returning lower numbers than in any other season of Guardiola’s tenure.
Yet, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss rejected the suggestion that deploying Rodri and Fernandinho as a defensive midfield pairing was an unnecessarily cautious approach against a United side who have not scored from open play in their past five home league matches.
“We were more adventurous than them. We created more chances,” he said.
“I’m the manager, I see the team, I see the opponents and see what happened in the past.
“I know what happened when we were up front. There are many reasons I decide.
“When you create the Raheem Sterling chances and after Gabriel and Riyad in the first half, considering the moment that we are, it’s good enough.”
From Guardiola’s point of view, six successive clean sheets in all competitions is another more pleasing side effect of this alleged caution.
Club-record signing Ruben Dias has added steel at centre-back since joining from Benfica and the Portugal international is enjoying a burgeoning partnership with John Stones.
Having fallen down the pecking order due to form and fitness issues last season, Stones has re-established himself as first-choice for Guardiola.
The 26-year-old has featured prominently in the recent run of shutouts and City have not conceded with Stones on the field since their opening 3-1 Premier League win at Wolves.
successive clean sheets is a new Club record for City!
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 13, 2020
The Dias-Stones partnership has been unbroken in top-flight games since a 2-0 defeat at Spurs, where Aymeric Laporte – who was widely viewed as City’s defensive lynchpin – was at fault for Son Heung-min’s opener.
“He deserves to be in the team but John Stones and Ruben also deserve to be in the team,” Guardiola said. “They played incredibly well in the last games, they did not make one single mistake.
“Ayme played so good against Marseille [in the Champions League]. Nathan Ake [who did not make the bench at United] played extraordinarily well against Marseille but I have to make a selection. That’s all. Ayme will be back.”
He added: “In the first goal against Tottenham, yeah [he made a mistake], but it’s happened. After we make another decision with the players and the players are properly correct.
“The season is long. What they have to do is work harder, better. The moment will come for them to make a good performance.
“Right now, John and Ruben are brilliant. That’s why they play.”
Guardiola will hope to say the same for a greater number of his first-team stars when West Brom visit the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday, before City travel to face high-flying Southampton.