City aim to fight off fatigue as title race heats up
City manager Pep Guardiola has seen his side hit a downturn in their attacking form in recent weeks despite overtaking Liverpool and returning to the top of the table.
The last three City games have seen them score just two goals, including a goalless League Cup final appearance against a Chelsea team they had defeated 6-0 just two weeks prior.
The run hardly represents a major concern, with City having won the cup final on penalties and their next two league games by 1-0 scorelines.
But as a general indicator of form, City’s previously prolific goalscoring feats – which had produced 50 goals in the opening 13 games of 2019 – have dried up alarmingly.
Watford, who were beaten 5-0 by a Liverpool team that had gone through a similarly barren spell immediately prior to their meeting, might be just the right opponents for City this weekend as they aim to maintain their one-point lead over Liverpool.
Yet Guardiola must also have been alarmed by a growing injury list which includes Kevin De Bruyne after last weekend’s victory at Bournemouth.
The Belgian midfielder suffered a hamstring injury early in the second half and City were economical with the facts surrounding the problem immediately after the game, other than Guardiola confirming he will be sidelined for a period of time.
De Bruyne’s absence will add to the mounting frustrations for the 27-year-old, who started 36 of City’s 38 league games last season.
De Bruyne will have played in just seven of City’s 30 league games this term if, as expected, he misses out against Watford.
Two knee injuries have taken their toll on De Bruyne this season although, even when he has enjoyed extended periods in the first team, he has appeared short of the form that made him one of the league’s most effective players last season.
De Bruyne’s lack of cutting edge was hardly a problem for City over the opening weeks of the new year, but his side have found it more difficult to wear teams down in recent games.
The fact the Belgian played so much over the summer, with his team reaching the latter stages of the World Cup, has been cited by both player and manager as a reason for his lack of fitness and form.
And City’s gruelling schedule, as they continue to compete for four trophies, has clearly impacted upon, not only De Bruyne but a number of other players, with Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte also suffering recent injuries.
Speaking earlier this month, before his latest setback, De Bruyne conceded that those absences have affected him.
“Sometimes I feel good, sometimes I feel a little bit worse or I need a day more to recover,” he said.
“But I try every day to be at the best level I can be, and sometimes people have to give me a little bit of slack after the amount of time I’ve been away.
“I always want to be better. But sometimes my body just says ‘no’ and I have to take that in my stride.”