MARTIN KEOWN: Pep Guardiola’s tactics to evolve his team have turned Man City into a Covid-proof winning machine while Liverpool and Chelsea are too reliant on their stars
- Manchester City have not played the same starting XI since October 30
- Pep Guardiola constantly evolves his side turning them into a winning machine
- Chelsea suffered a significant blow after losing Romelu Lukaku to Covid-19
- Jurgen Klopp relies on his stars and losing Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho was a blow
Manchester City look like a Covid-proof winning machine. They are more prepared for disruptions than any other team in the Premier League because of the way their manager Pep Guardiola constantly evolves his side, regardless of who is or isn’t available.
It was back on October 30 when City last lost, a 2-0 defeat by Crystal Palace. At that time they were third, Liverpool second and Chelsea first.
These three juggernauts are still jostling for supremacy but City have taken a nice lead at the top. They’ve gone into overdrive, winning 10 in a row and scoring 31 goals in the process. Amid that run they have never played the same XI in consecutive games.
Man City look like a Covid-proof winning machine thanks to Pep Guardiola’s tactics
City have managed to avoid too much disturbance from Covid, apart from losing star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in November.
But even if they were hit by an outbreak, given how Guardiola already utilises his squad and regularly rotates, they look ready to cope with any enforced changes.
Others aren’t as fortunate. Their rivals appear to stumble if you take one or two out of their team and there is no escaping the fact that Covid has affected one of the best Premier League title races we’ve seen in years.
Thomas Tuchel makes changes aplenty to his Chelsea XI but the loss of Romelu Lukaku to Covid was significant.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel suffered a significant blow after losing Romelu Lukaku to Covid
The match-winning impact Lukaku made on his return against Aston Villa emphasised their reliance on him.
He then scored against Brighton but with Timo Werner still missing because of Covid and the schedule posing them problems, Chelsea dropped more points.
Jurgen Klopp is reliant on several of his stars, too. Liverpool lost Virgil van Dijk, Thiago and Fabinho among others to Covid.
Liverpool were without Virgil van Dijk (left), Thiago and Fabinho among others to Covid
They drew a game at Tottenham they might otherwise have won with their first-choice XI, with Klopp handing 19-year-old prospect Tyler Morton his first Premier League start in that match.
Liverpool don’t react to change nearly as well as City, whose players are so used to tweaks that they aren’t fazed by it. Plenty of Premier League champions had best XIs — same defence, same midfield and same forwards throughout the season.
But not City. You never know what Guardiola’s team will look like. It’s a puzzle of so many interchangeable pieces.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp handed 19-year-old prospect Tyler Morton a start against Spurs
It’s a tougher January for City with games against Arsenal and Chelsea. But if a bad run is around the corner it would most likely be down to a dip in form rather than the impact of Covid absences.
Guardiola’s City could yet beat their record of 106 goals scored in 2017-18 and they’re doing it by using their entire squad rather than relying on 11 players week in, week out.
MOYES MAKES FAIR POINT
David Moyes says he hopes games aren’t being postponed because of injuries and he’s quite right to make that point. West Ham have had to play on with almost all of their back four sidelined. Premier League clubs tend to have a large pool of first-team players and use of Under 23s.
If they can pull together enough for an XI and some substitutes then it should be game on. There’s been scrutiny on Newcastle because their trip to Everton was called off, especially after Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin were injured against Manchester United.
Callum Wilson (pictured) was injured during Newcastle’s game against Manchester United
There needs to be transparency in this process. Maybe not specific names because that would be an invasion of players’ privacy, but numbers so that we can understand why certain matches are being postponed.
The first half of the season has seen twists and turns and there’s still so much that we don’t know about how the second half will turn out but it’s inevitable that the rest of the season will continue to be disrupted by Covid.
If City are one of those caught up in it all, they look as ready as anyone to deal with whatever is thrown their way — the rest may not be so lucky.
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