By Philip O’Connor
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Pep Guardiola must address his side’s defensive woes if Manchester City are to have any chance of adding another Premier League title, former assistant manager Hans Backe said.
The 65-year-old Swede, who spent a year at City as assistant to Sven-Goran Eriksson and also managed FC Copenhagen, the New York Red Bulls and the Finnish national team, said Guardiola’s defense was the weak link in an otherwise strong side.
“It’s OK if you look at the attacking play, the technical skill and the way Guardiola wants to play, with a goalkeeper playing out from the back,” Backe told Reuters.
“But when they lose the ball, they are far too vulnerable. I’m convinced he’s going to put his mark on the team with some buys, and I think it will be players in the back four.”
Third-placed City, 10 points behind leaders Chelsea, host Liverpool on Sunday and need a win to keep their faint hopes of another league title alive.
Backe is a firm believer that it takes a year for players and managers to adapt to the rough and tumble of the English top flight, and said Manchester City had adopted part of Guardiola’s high-pressure defensive doctrine, but not all of it.
“Their initial press is fine and the midfield’s pressure is good, but when teams play past that, the back four is exposed. A good back four can manage that, but City don’t really have that quality in their defense at the moment,” he said.
City’s frailties were brutally exposed in midweek by French side Monaco in the Champions League, as they overturned a 5-3 deficit and won 3-1 at home to go through to the quarter-finals on away goals.
Though he and Eriksson left Manchester City almost 10 years ago, Backe has fond memories of his time there.
“It was the biggest thing in my career, I can say that much. I was at a horse race in Halmstad when Sven-Goran Eriksson called saying he’d signed as manager for City,” Backe said.
“He said ‘I want you as my assistant, think about it’. I told him, ‘I don’t have to think about it.’ It took 10 seconds – the Premier League has always been number one for me.”
Under then-owner Thaksin Shinawatra there was money available to the new coaches, but Backe says the sums they spent were modest in comparison with Guardiola’s resources.
“Many said that we had a huge budget, but that wasn’t quite correct. We got the TV money to spend but it wasn’t even close to what City spend now.
“We left after a year, and two months later the current owners came in with all these resources – that’s a bit hard to take at times,” he said ruefully.
For Backe, a lifelong fan of English soccer, being immersed in that culture was a high point.
“People talk about football 24/7, it’s everywhere,” he said.
Now back in Sweden and working as a television pundit on domestic, European and international soccer, Chelsea supporter Backe says he still enjoys watching the English games most of all.
“There is no tougher league, regardless of who you meet,” he said.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Alison Williams)