After your fourth consecutive 5-0 home win over Burnley in three seasons, any response to those critics of Manchester City’s attack, Pep?
“It’s just one game,” he said. And he was right.
As the nights draw in and we enter the traditional glut of festive fixtures, it is easy to forget that all is not what it seems in this most unusual of seasons. Whereas each top-flight club would normally be 13 or 14 games into a Premier League campaign by now, most have only just reached double figures.
City are even further behind schedule after their Champions League exploits in August. Saturday’s emphatic win at the Etihad was only the ninth game of their league campaign. We are learning more about how they and every other side is shaping up each week but these are still early days.
With that in mind, were we too soon to question whether the highest-scorers in each of the last three Premier League seasons had suddenly gone goal-shy?
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Saturday’s return to form would suggest as much. With a Riyad Mahrez hat-trick and strikes for Benjamin Mendy and Ferran Torres, City plundered five in one game having only managed 10 in their previous eight.
This did not look like the side that had not scored twice or more in their last six league games – and even then, not since a 5-2 defeat to Leicester City.
But then City’s schedule up to this point has not been the most favourable either, with a string of stubborn opponents and very few home bankers. Is it any surprise that the first time they were heavy favourites in their own backyard, they won comfortably?
The narrative around City’s attack is a little more optimistic now and is likely to shift further over the coming weeks. Fulham had the joint-worst defence in the Premier League at the start of the weekend and visit the Etihad this coming Saturday.
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Two weeks later, the other joint-worst defence arrives in the shape of West Bromwich Albion. If City’s goals scored column does not look significantly healthier when the final whistle is blown on Newcastle’s Boxing Day visit, maybe there really is something wrong.
That is not to dismiss the concerns entirely, either. Only last month, they were expressed in these very pages. Every key measure of attacking performance other than goals – whether it be shots, chances created or xG – was down on the previous year and that’s still very much the case.
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But the hope within the City camp will be that Saturday’s win acts as a springboard to another win by five, six or seven and ultimately rediscovering their usual attacking verve, even if Guardiola dismissed that idea in his post-match press conference.
“No, [scoring many goals] is not important,” he said. “What’s important is winning games. If we win with bigger margins it’s good but I’m not expecting to win every game by lots of goals. What’s important is creating chances. We had a lot of chances in every game. Today we were good and converted.”
And whether this is a turning point or not, it is a reminder not to judge teams too quickly, especially this season.
As Guardiola rightly pointed out, Saturday was only one game but the concerns were based on just eight. It is still too early to say whether the attack has declined, but this latest performance was much closer to what we have come to expect from City over the last four-and-a-half years.
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