Panicked defending under pressure was a feature of both Manchester City’s frantic 1-0 win over Everton on Saturday and their preceding 3-2 loss to Tottenham.
But there is something about both performances that is likely to cause a little more concern and head-scratching for Pep Guardiola.
In both games, he packed his side with all his best playmakers and in each, City lost control of the midfield battle for significant spells.
Kevin De Bruyne was, as usual, City’s major creative threat at Goodison Park but it was not always an enjoyable outing for the Belgian teacher.
In the 27th minute, Everton midfielder Allan picked his pocket to launch a move that ended with the Brazilian going down softly under a challenge from Joao Cancelo in the City penalty area.
De Bruyne then had City’s first shot of note, bursting through midfield to give Jordan Pickford a routine save from range but he was in hot water again just after the half-hour.
Allan was his tormentor again, stealing possession and setting Everton on their way to the City box, where Jonjo Kenny crashed a shot into the side netting.
A harum-scarum first half generally passed Ilkay Gundogan by. Guardiola’s premier midfield stylist made 37 passes before being substituted in the 77th minute, way below his normal levels. In the 4-0 win at Norwich two weeks ago he made 72.
As he did in the Tottenham defeat, Bernardo Silva operated across the frontline. When he isn’t one of Guardiola’s central midfielders, City are susceptible to looking a little lethargic.
Gundogan and De Bruyne remain sublimely talented footballers who will be key to anything City achieve this season. They have been constants of the Guardiola era.
But when they play as the number eights in tandem, they do look very much like two players in their early 30s and on the other side of knee ligament injuries.
This looks likely to be the summer of Erling Haaland but don’t be surprised if Guardiola makes a move for some more dynamic midfield legs. Bernardo has started every Premier League game since watching the opener at Spurs from the bench and City have become over-reliant on him in this regard.
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Frenkie de Jong was in stunning form for Barcelona this week and he is not the only Catalan-based schemer who might tickle Guardiola’s fancy.
On the other hand, the answers need not lie in the transfer market. James McAtee has joined Cole Palmer in penning a long-term contract, while Phil Foden and Jack Grealish probably both see themselves in central roles over the long term.
Either way, a midfield refresh is approaching for Guardiola – not that he usually needs a second invitation to dream up something new with the type of player he loves above all others.
Which midfielders do you think would thrive at Manchester City? Or do you want to see more of McAtee and Palmer next season? Follow the City Is Ours editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.