How Manchester City’s defense assisting Erling Haaland proves Pep Guardiola right


Pep Guardiola puts a lot of pressure on his Manchester City defenders, and the statistics show that they deliver.

While Erling Haaland has stolen most of the headlines since joining Manchester City from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, Manchester City have shown, and will show again, that they can deliver without the Norwegian leader. It was the missing piece of the puzzle in many ways, but it’s still just one piece in an incredibly well-oiled machine.

The 22-year-old has recorded 23 goals and three assists in 18 appearances in all competitions so far this season, and his individual performances have drawn much praise. Several of Haaland’s goals have come from inside the penalty area, and many of them have been left on a plate.

Kevin De Bruyne has been praised for his growing association with the leader, and the Belgian certainly deserves his applause. However, City’s success so far this season, and triumphs in recent years, can also be attributed to defenders, who have specific roles under Pep Guardiola.

Unsurprisingly, De Bruyne sits atop the Blues’ assist table this season, having recorded 12 this term. Bernardo Silva sits in second place with five, while Joao Cancelo has four. Although Ruben Dias, Nathan Ake, Kyle Walker have yet to record an assist in the league, all three players, along with John Stones, are contributing in other ways and doing exactly what Guardiola asks of them.

A stat published on social media by VisualGame showed that nine Blues players are in the top 10 players in the Premier League so far this season, with Rodri recording the best xBuildup of any player in the top flight. In simple terms, as summarized in the account, xBuildup shows which players are involved in team possessions that end in the creation of a chance, but are not involved in either the shot or shot assist; essentially, which player is more involved in amassing successful team possessions.

Rodri, Walker, Ake, Dias, Bernardo, Stones, Cancelo, De Bruyne and Phil Foden feature on the list, with Liverpool star Harvey Elliott taking the other position. While a number of City players are understandably included, given the possession stats Guardiola’s side frequently record, the dominant presence of defenders shows just how crucial they are to the way the Blues play.

For context, despite City losing 2-1 to Brentford on Saturday afternoon, they still registered 75 per cent possession. The reigning champions also made 622 passes, with 85 percent of them deemed accurate. The result was disappointing, but Manuel Akanji’s assist to Foden up the pitch was a demonstration of the importance of the club’s defenders being involved in the attacking phase.

While the main objective of City’s defensive stars will always be to keep the ball out of Ederson’s goal, they are responsible for initiating attacks and getting the Blues into potential goal-scoring positions as quickly as possible. The xBuildup stat shows that while they are not necessarily credited with the final assist, the pre-goal influence is unquestionable.

Rodri, De Bruyne and Bernardo are expected to break into the top 10, but it’s also important to give credit to Guardiola’s defenders for getting ahead of so many other Premier League players. Of course, City defenders have more opportunities to take the ball and influence play than most other teams’ midfielders, but there is a difference between having the ball and being effective with it.

City are currently five points behind Arsenal in the Premier League table, and the Gunners surprisingly have no players in the top 10 of the aforementioned list. In many ways, he proves that there is no “right” way to play, and Mikel Arteta is to be commended for preparing his team in a positive way.

The Blues, especially with Guardiola at the helm, are unlikely to change their style of play, so the club’s defenders will always play a big part in the team’s success. If the reigning champions retain their crown, or even add to their trophy case, the impact on their bottom line should not be underestimated.


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