MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola has warned his players they must be more clinical in front of goal or they will fail to close the gap on Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur next season.
And the Manchester City manager also hopes that Belgian star Kevin De Bruyne will help in that aim by shedding his tag as the Premier League’s nearly man in the goalscoring stakes.
Guardiola’s men enter the final day of the league campaign facing the prospect of finishing as many as 18 points behind champions Chelsea and 11 back from runners-up Spurs.
The Catalan has already identified his team’s main problem — their inability to convert chances into goals, a particular issue at their Etihad Stadium home.
“I have learnt you have to score more goals. Basically that,” said Guardiola when asked what the biggest lesson he had taken from his debut season in English football.
“So at home, especially at home, we dropped a lot of points,” the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager added. “It’s impossible to avoid that. But we didn’t score enough goals at home
“So we have to play a little bit better to create more chances to create more goals. If we want to reduce that gap, maybe that gap with Tottenham and Chelsea will be short. If we don’t, it will be the same,” warned Guardiola, whose side finish the season away to Watford on Sunday.
City’s tally of 37 goals from 19 home games this season is the worst among the elite top four teams and even that figure has been boosted by big home wins this month against Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion.
Guardiola cited De Bruyne as a case in point when it came to the fine margins involved.
– ‘More precise’ –
“I think we have guys … for example, Kevin De Bruyne has most assists in the league and he hit the cross-bar 11 or 12 or 14 or 15. So the distance between the crossbar, goal, no goal is maybe centimetres and when you just score half of those situations, maybe there are seven or eight more points.
“So we just have to be a little bit more precise in those situations and we are going to try.”
The case of De Bruyne is curious with the Belgian having scored only six league goals this term, and seven in 48 games across all competitions.
That record stands in stark contrast to his first season with the club, in 2015/16, when he hit the net 16 times in 41 appearances.
However, this season’s return conceals two amazing statistics surrounding De Bruyne with the attacking midfielder contributing 16 assists in the Premier League and having struck the woodwork nine times in league games alone — comfortably top in those respective categories.
“I would like to have Kevin the level he had that season, he was a guy who scored goals and had quality,” said Guardiola. “Look at the exceptional goal he scored the last game. But he made 12 or 13 crossbars, a lot and that’s not his mistake. Football is like this.”
Guardiola has already hinted at the need to strengthen his goalscoring options next season and that could mean little-used youngster Kelechi Iheanacho is on his way out of the club, with West Ham and Everton reportedly interested.
But, regardless, Guardiola believes that in Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, De Bruyne and wide men Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, he also has options currently within his squad to answer the problem.
“I think we have the quality of players to score goals,” he said. “Kele — he didn’t play too much because of my reasons – he has the quality, Sergio, there’s no doubt about that; Gabriel there’s no doubt about that.
“Kevin I think is a guy to score 12-14 goals a season, no problem at all. And our wingers score goals.”