Man City are miles off their brilliant best & if they don't improve - and fast - it's Liverpool's title

Manchester City Liverpool 2019
Pep Guardiola's side have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League but they are far from the heights they hit over the past two seasons

Manchester City may well have secured their place as a top seed for the Champions League knockout stages but that is about all that can be said about their drab 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk

It was an instantly forgettable game; the sixth meeting in three years of a long-running saga between the two sides that has failed to capture the imagination. 

Europe remains the last unconquered frontier for City under Pep Guardiola, and the competition could yet become the priority when the knockout games start in February. 

That will depend on the next three months and how much City can cut into Liverpool’s nine-point lead at the top of the Premier League. 

Goal 50 Revealed: The best 50 players in the world

But the big worry is that City are currently struggling to get anywhere near their incredible heights of the past two seasons and Jurgen Klopp’s side are barely putting a foot wrong. 

Guardiola’s team have now gone six games without keeping a clean sheet after Shakhtar snatched an equaliser that gives them an advantage in trying to join City in the last 16 going into matchday six. 

Injuries have undoubtedly had their impact on Guardiola’s options with Leroy Sane, Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko enduring lengthy absences while Sergio Aguero will now miss a crucial period of the season. 

Guardiola said he will not use those absences as an excuse for failing to compete for silverware - a sentiment echoed by goalscorer Ilkay Gundogan after the draw with the Ukrainians. 

“When you want to become a top team and fight in all the competitions, you are not allowed to concede goals in every game,” the Germany international said. 

Dodo Tete Shakhtar Donetsk 2019

“Obviously, with all the injuries we are having, all the changes in the squad, sometimes it's not easy, but I think there is enough quality in our team, even with the injuries, to be able to play without conceding a goal." 

City’s replacements need to step up if they are to have any chance of making inroads into Liverpool’s sizeable lead over the next three months. 

They have a testing schedule coming up over the coming weeks with difficult trips to Newcastle and Burnley followed by the Manchester derby and then Arsenal and Leicester. 

Aguero is likely to be missing for all those matches and it presents a huge opportunity for Gabriel Jesus to take on the responsibility of leading the line ahead of the hectic Christmas schedule. 

Against Shakhtar, the Brazilian centre-forward struggled to make an impact, although he had little to feed on. He pressed and harried the Ukrainian backline and set up Gundogan’s opener but there were few opportunities of his own. 

Across the pitch, City were short of their usual zip and the fact of the matter is that Guardiola’s summer signings are yet to match the qualities of the players they are supposed to be replacing. 

Rodri is smart and steady in the centre of midfield but is not replicating the savvy impact of Fernandinho, shunted to the centre of defence to cover deficiencies there. 

Next Five Matches Manchester City

Angelino and Joao Cancelo started as full-backs on the night but failed to deliver the same sort of creativity and threat that the champions had last season from Kyle Walker and Zinchenko or Benjamin Mendy. 

Guardiola looked particularly frustrated with Cancelo in the first half when the Portuguese failed to press at the right time and again when he sent over two poor crosses from threatening positions. 

The City boss used the length of an injury stoppage to Shakhtar’s Alan Patrick to explain to the former Juventus right-back what he wanted him to do. 

Ultimately City got what they wanted from the match but questions remain whether they can reach their previous best levels and put together that winning streak they need to put the pressure on Liverpool. 

Article continues below

“We have dropped unnecessary points in a few games already, and to remain at the top, you are not allowed to,” Gundogan admitted. 

“We need to be there if Liverpool slip and we are through in the Champions League, but there is still plenty of work to [be done to] improve. Not results, but more the way we play.” 

The next few weeks could go a long way to determining the shape of City’s season and just how important the Champions League could be when it gets serious in three months’ time.