As I write, City have played 22 league games out of 46. A fair point for a half-time review.
Others have given well-deserved praise to individual players, and to Daniel Farke and his coaching staff. I’ll take a slightly more statistical slant.
But first, a question to ponder while you read. Who is the only player to score at least two league goals for us both this season and last?
The answer will be towards the end. Being the smart MFW readers that you are, many of you will have got it by then (if not by now).
Let’s dwell on goalscoring to start our review. Last season City’s defensive record wasn’t far off top-six, but we only scored 49 goals in 46 league games – nothing like enough to meet our aspirations.
No-one denied that was our challenge, least of all Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber. The question was, could they do anything about it? Many fans had concluded by the end of last season that Daniel might be a good defensive coach, but didn’t have the nous to produce sufficient attacking.
Farke himself talked about his focus during the summer to address the problem, both in personnel and approach.
Actually, I’m not sure the two can be completely separated. In his first transfer window, Farke had to focus on the more pressing challenge of defending. In effect, summer 2017 saw a new defence assembled, culminating in the signing of Grant Hanley.
Stuart Webber had warned us it would take four windows to properly re-shape the squad. Reflecting that, almost all the main arrivals of summer 2018 turned out to be attacking players: Pukki, Rhodes, Buendia, McLean etc.
In addition, Onel Hernandez felt like a new signing; had he been fit from January when he was signed, we might have seen more indication of the team’s direction.
Of course, the play looks more positive this year. Undoubtedly, we move the ball forward with more purpose; the slightly changed role of Moritz Leitner is part of that.
I wonder, though, if it’s just as much a case of Farke having the kind of attacking players that understand and suit his philosophy. Last season he worked with what he inherited – notably Cameron Jerome, Nelson Oliveira and Josh Murphy. This year he has his own choices.
Webber told this forum last year about his approach to recruitment: it’s not the quality of the player in isolation, it’s whether he’s the right player for the particular role under the particular Head Coach.
Some of the greater coherence and belief in this season’s team, I suspect, reflects our progress towards that.
I said I’d share some stats. Everyone’s aware that we’re much better off than at this stage last season – our 44 points from 22 games compares to 27 points at the equivalent stage last time.
Perhaps the most striking figures relate to goals, though. Our defensive record is barely different from last year: 26 conceded at this stage, compared to 28 last time. In contrast, our scoring has virtually doubled: from 21 last season to 40 this time.
The sceptics about Farke’s attacking ability (I was in the wait-and-see camp) have been confounded.
Is it all Teemu Pukki? He’s caught the eye, of course; with 12 league goals already, he could be our first 20-goal striker for quite a while.
However, just as striking (no pun intended) is the spread of goals around the team. Watching the Premier League at the weekend, and hearing the pundits praise West Ham for having five players with more than one goal, prompted me to check the equivalent for City.
Last season six of our players scored more than one league goal: Maddison, Oliveira, Murphy, Klose, Trybull and Pinto.
This season we already have…nine. Pukki leads the way ahead of Rhodes, but seven other players have scored more than once: Stiepermann, Vrancic, Buendia, Klose, Aarons, Hernandez and Leitner.
So the answer to my question at the top of the article is: Timm Klose. Congratulations to those who came up with our central defender.
Our form will have dips, of course, and there’s no telling where we’ll finish. For now, though, the ride is fun – with some reasons to believe it may carry on that way.
It’s nice to be able to say we’re the positive antithesis of Manchester United. After their defeat at Liverpool, one of the newspapers described United as “without a plan, identity or soul”. Well, we have all of those.
The stats back up the evidence of our eyes. City are playing total football, and it’s a joy.