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Are Guardiola's Man City boring or misunderstood?

12:00 GMT+4 09/02/2022
Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City
The Premier League champions have been criticised for their style of play, but are they really less entertaining than any other dominant side?

"I think you have a duty and a responsibility to entertain," Manchester United's legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson told the UEFA magazine four years after his retirement.

"We have to always remember that there's a public to be entertained."

The Scot's sides remain renowned for their swashbuckling, all-out attacking approach to the game and, in the same 2017 interview, Ferguson was quick to point out that his final game in charge of United ended in a 5-5 draw.

There is no questioning the remarkable level of success he sustained during his 27-year stay at Old Trafford. Indeed, United fans now pine for the days of titles, trebles and 'Fergie time'.

However, United did not always play flamboyant football during his tenure. On many occasions, the result was far more important than the performance.

For instance, no Premier League champions have scored fewer goals than Ferguson's inaugural winners (67) back in 1992-93, and none have drawn more matches than the celebrated treble winners of 1999 (13, four of which finished goalless).

And Manchester City fans will remember the dramatic 2012 title run-in when United needed a draw at the Etihad Stadium to keep control of the title race, only for Ferguson's defensive-minded side to fail to have a single shot on target in a dismal 1-0 defeat.

Those same City supporters, then, have been surprised and upset by recent allegations that Pep Guardiola's side are boring and uninspiring.

City have set new standards of excellence in the Premier League. It is now tougher than ever to win the title.

Indeed, since the 2017-18 season, City have set records for most points, most goals and most wins – later equalled by Liverpool – across a solitary campaign.

However, when it comes to entertainment, some feel that City do not represent value for money. Their remarkable ability to control and dominate matches has led to accusations that their games are repetitive and lacking in jeopardy.

There is nothing new in champions suffering complaints for just being too good. Remember, Liverpool's great sides of the 1970s and 1980s, and even Ferguson's United, were similarly maligned.

Relentless winning can be a turn-off and City are doing it more consistently than any team in the history of English football, with 139 victories from their last 179 matches.

And while few would argue that Guardiola's footballing philosophy is negative, there is also an aspect of the centuries-old maxim that 'attack is the best form of defence'.

Keeping your opponent a long way away from goal, and shorn of possession, is a highly effective way of stopping them from scoring.

Waiting for an opponent to create an opportunity, never mind a good one, can be a massive source of frustration for those cheering on the underdog.

Brentford's visit to the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night is likely to be another example of a team expected to spend the majority of the evening defending and hoping for the miracle of an upset.

Certainly, the two sides' clash just after Christmas could be put forward as an example of City sucking some of the fun out of what could have been a tense and dramatic occasion.

In front of a lively Brentford Community Stadium crowd, the Bees started well in their first meeting with City in the league for three-quarters of a century.

Ederson had to react quickly to keep out a deflection from Ruben Dias, while a Yoane Wissa strike was cleared off the line by Joao Cancelo.

But when Phil Foden put City ahead in the 16th minute, City strangled the life out of the game.

They had 76 per cent possession and made nearly three-and-a-half times as many passes as Brentford.

In what looked like a narrow 1-0 defeat, Thomas Frank's team were prevented from having a single shot on target for the final 75 minutes.

"We played the game in this stadium against this team how it must be played," Guardiola said afterwards.

But that ruthless attitude came on the night Chelsea were held at home to Brighton and 24 hours after Liverpool had slipped up at Leicester, leading to consternation that an exciting three-horse race was turning into a canter for the defending champions.

But City should not be blamed for the failings of the rivals, nor the way that opponents attempt to stifle them.

Against sides who will not be intimidated, Guardiola wants his side to play with freedom, verve and style.

Take the thrilling 2-2 draw at Anfield in October, when he ordered his players to go toe-to-toe with one of the best sides in Europe in a febrile and hostile atmosphere.

Look, too, at the way in which they have dealt with Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea this season.

The German manager masterminded three consecutive victories over Guardiola last term to deny City a shot at a historic quadruple, as well as a first ever Champions League triumph.

This season, Chelsea were soundly beaten 1-0 both home and away by the league leaders. As they proved during their path to the Champions League final, City try to win each and every single game, home or away.

And an intention to win in every stadium could hardly be construed as unadventurous, while an 11-year wait for Champions League success suggests it brings its own high level of risk.

Even in 2022 alone, City have been in compelling matches, including the dramatic injury-time victory at Arsenal, as well as the pulsating 1-1 draw with Southampton last time out in the league.

Granted, games at the Etihad can be less exciting in comparison, and may not always make for a good highlights package when compared to the whirl of fervour which can often accompany Liverpool victories.

But while City's attacking play is often meticulous, controlled and incessant, there is a sophistication in the passing, movement and dominance that has not been seen in English football before.

It may not be to every football fan's taste, but to the players and those that admire them, winning is never boring.