Man City will play long balls if necessary, says Zabaleta

Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta celebrating after scoring during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Watford, on Dec 14, 2016.
Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta celebrating after scoring during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Watford, on Dec 14, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

LONDON • Manchester City will not hesitate to dump their passing style and play more directly if it leads to more clean sheets, defender Pablo Zabaleta said.

Manager Pep Guardiola launched a staunch defence of his preferred possession-based style of play despite his back four regularly losing the ball in dangerous areas, which has led to just one clean sheet in their last nine games.

"We played directly when it was needed and we played out from the back when there was a good chance to play from Claudio Bravo," Zabaleta said of Wednesday's 2-0 Premier League win over Watford.

"We need to respond to those situations where sometimes we need to play long balls as well."

The Argentinian added that he felt a lot of City's defensive frailty was because they often left themselves exposed to counter-attacks.

"I think the main problem was we were conceding too many counter-attacks and we needed to concentrate more on those balls," he added.

"That is what you need as a defender, and as a team you need that determination and that desire to win the duels and the tackles.

"You must be prepared for this and we've got the players that have the aggression to cope with this."

Midfielder Kevin de Bruyne has also said that he is versatile enough to adjust to the manager's constant tactical changes.

Former City defender and manager Stuart Pearce is among those who believe Guardiola's frequent tinkering is confusing the City players.

"I am used to playing in six different positions in my career so that's not an issue for me," de Bruyne told Sky Sports. "I have always changed positions and I don't expect any different. It's all the same to me."

City made a flying start under Guardiola, winning their first 10 games, but have won just five times in 16 matches since, a run which has left them fourth in the league, seven points behind leaders Chelsea.

City will next host third-placed Arsenal in the league tomorrow and Guardiola has confirmed in his pre-match conference that Ilkay Gundogan will undergo surgery after injuring his knee on Wednesday.

"He's going to be operated (upon) and be back as soon as possible," Guardiola said.

"It is so, so difficult for him, we are sad for him. He is unlucky, sometimes it happens in football."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2016, with the headline 'Man City will play long balls if necessary, says Zabaleta'. Print Edition | Subscribe