MANCHESTER, England -- It's hard to win anything with an unreliable defence, so Pep Guardiola has work to do if Manchester City are to come close to replicating last season's treble success this time around.
Eight goals conceded in three games with the lead surrendered six times in those fixtures, are the kind of statistics usually associated with Erik ten Hag's out-of-form Manchester United rather than Manchester City, but they are the reality of Guardiola's team right now after Tottenham ended their three-game losing streak to draw 3-3 at the Etihad on Sunday.
These are unusual times at City. It is the first time they have gone three Premier League games without a win since March-April 2017, and you have to go back to Nov. 2009 for the last time City led in three successive league games and failed to win any of them, as Guardiola's side have done against Chelsea (4-4), Liverpool (1-1) and now Spurs.
And things could get worse before they get better. City travel to Aston Villa -- a point behind in fourth place -- on Wednesday with Unai Emery's team having won their last seven home games. City will face them without Rodri, whose yellow card against Spurs earned him a one-match suspension, and Guardiola will remember that his team lost three successive games while the Spain midfielder was suspended earlier this season.
The absence of Rodri is a one-game issue that could be addressed by Kalvin Phillips, John Stones or Rico Lewis stepping into his position in front of the back four, but the defensive problems will need more work than one simple selection switch.
For a start, City have an issue at left-back. Brennan Johnson's pace down the Spurs right was a constant problem for Josko Gvardiol, a centre-back playing at left-back, and the visitors' first goal came from Son Heung-min outmuscling Jérémy Doku in City's left channel while Gvardiol struggling to get back following a counter-attack. Rúben Dias has also struggled for form at centre-half, despite being City's most consistent defender since arriving from Benfica in 2020, and the absence of Stones due to injury for the majority of this season has also impacted on the solidity of Guardiola's team.
It is an issue that Guardiola acknowledged after the Spurs game, with the City boss admitting that his team has to find a way to return to consistency and reliability in defending.
"People say, 'You must be concerned about the goals you concede," Guardiola said. "Of course, but how many chances do we concede? Hardly any. It is happening, but OK, let's go. It's a challenging situation, it is the first time we face a situation where you are playing good but results don't come.
"I remember my first season, we played good but couldn't get results. The only medicine I got was that when you are playing at the level we have been, you just keep doing the same. You create more chances, score more goals, be more creative than your opponent. Just make good actions, make good delivery. Football is about mistakes sometimes, but we are still there," added Guardiola.
Perhaps City are merely in the midst of a run of tough games against opponents prepared to, and capable of, attacking and causing the champions problems. Villa are in the same category as Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs, but after City travel to Villa Park, their fixture list becomes less hazardous with games against Luton, Crystal Palace, Everton and Sheffield United before the end of December.
Guardiola's side are unlikely to face forwards of the calibre of Son or Johnson during that run of games, but their frailty at the back has been exposed by the top sides and opponents will be ready to deploy the same tactics in the return fixtures in the second half of the season.
So City have a challenge ahead that maybe they didn't face last season in that they will be up against opponents who believe they can beat them. Tottenham, for all of their injury problems, retained that belief despite twice falling behind at the Etihad and they were rewarded with their equaliser.
"The lads haven't given up until the last whistle and brilliant work from Brennan [Johnson], unbelievable cross inside the box and obviously Dejan [Kulusevski] doesn't score headers usually, but I'm very proud of him and he's massive," Son told Sky Sports. "I think this point will bring us so much for the season. I think it's a huge point for the team and players' confidence."
That goal may also bring confidence to the other challengers, too. City have vulnerabilities and they can be exposed.