In modern day football parlance one always looks for the positives in a performance, irrespective of the result.
Perversely there were some for Manchester City, but whatever vernacular is applied, a loss to a weakened Aston Villa is pretty inexcusable.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics but the numbers clearly didn’t stack up for Manuel Pellegrini’s men after twice surrendering a lead and dominating the play.
Possession is nine-tenths as the adage goes and City had 67% of it but ended up with 0% of the spoils. It’s as bemusing as it is disturbing that with 20 shots at goal compared to Villa’s eight, along with 13 corners contrasting with two, that City lost.
Unlike the shock defeat to Cardiff and the indifference of the draw at Stoke, the men from Manchester looked smooth and slick in a first half where Yaya Toure’s 45th minute volleyed goal was scant reward for their total domination.
With Aguero nursing a knee injury Pellegrini opted for what ultimately transpired to be an ill advised strike duo of Dzeko and Negredo. Surely it is one or the other and City badly missed Sergio’s surgical precision in front of goal.
Whether Aguero would have been selected if fit with Bayern Munich bound for the Etihad on Wednesday is debateable. Champions League glory – or at least substantial progress – is a fundamental element of Pellegrini’s brief, but surely not at the risk of sacrificing a Premier League ripe for the taking?
It may be a dilemma in the Boardroom, but for the vociferous and voluble travelling support, a second PL title in three years – ripping it back from the clammy clasp of the Swamp dwellers – would be ample reward from Pellegrini’s debut season in England.
It’s a given that City must progress to the CL knockout stage, but surely only a minority of fans genuinely believe the Sky Blues are ready to be crowned European champions in Lisbon next May?
Like a rather dodgy Australian daytime soap opera, City’s form is transparently divided into the ‘Home & Away’ categories. Pretty nigh on imperious at the Etihad, the team are not faring well on their travels.
They’ve won just three of the last 12 PL away games – a paltry 25% – but in fairness Pellegrini has only presided over a quarter of those fixtures.
Nonetheless, from having had the best defence in the PL for three years on the bounce, there are presently 12 teams with the same or better defensive record.
Conversely City are the top scoring team, but title-winning teams build success from the backline.
Mitigation comes in the guise of a glut of injuries to hit in the first half-a-dozen games with Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy and Richards all affected. Once Pellegrini is able to consistently select his best back four – or three – the goals against column will stop accumulating.
It probably sounds like sour grapes, but whereas the Villa fans were understandably giddy about beating City – their tormentors of the last decade – it has to be said they were aided by the abject refereeing of Mike Jones and a lamentable ‘linesman’.
El Ahmadi’s 51st minute equaliser WAS offside – marginally or otherwise – it shouldn’t have stood. The free kick from which Leandro Bacuna fashioned a fabulous second equaliser was hugely contentious.
Matija Nastasic was the fall guy after Weimann went looking for a leg to topple over, rather than the Serbian defender pro-actively perpetrating the foul.
It’s one where opposing factions will argue until the sun goes down. Villa’s winner was down to defensive dillying and dallying from Kompany and Nastasic who failed to deal with a routine Guzan clearance, allowing a now upright Weimann to scamper clear and slide the ball past Joe Hart.
The pre-match expectations of Villa fans were as high as a snake’s belly so the usually comatose home fans were now understandably, fully subscribed adrenaline junkies.
It was akin to how City supporters would feel if City were about to beat Everton & Tottenham away simultaneously! It’s a great feeling laying a bogey team to rest.
Villa’s staggering two minute turnaround had been preceded by Edin Dzeko’s headed strike from a Nasri corner, the Frenchman’s second assist of the afternoon.
Showing the sort of tenacity and talent that originally led to his £24m move from Arsenal to City, Nasri was given a rousing show of appreciation when substituted for Jesus Navas in the 66th minute.
It was a strange switch given that Nasri was the brightest bulb in City’s illuminated attacking armoury. Many felt that James Milner – giving a below par performance by his standards – would have been a more likely candidate to leave the arena.
The shock defeat sees the Pellegrini popularity pendulum swinging into the negative zone with some supporters, but now, more than ever, we need a balanced and positive perspective.
A solitary point from a possible nine away from home is undoubtedly a cause for concern. City should never have lost a game against a Villa side who, rather like a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western XI, were a team of ‘no names’.
Villa fans will most likely see that as an outrageous affront – it isn’t intended in that fashion – but contrast it with City’s collection of household names, and you’ll get the gist.
Whether City – consciously or sub-consciously – thought they just had to turn up to bag the points is hard to say. Realistically, not a single Villa player from yesterday would make City’s starting line-up – so how the hell did City contrive to screw up?
Perhaps the derby destruction of Manchester United has been over emphasised, especially after their capitulation to Villa’s neighbours, WBA.
Could it be that United are no longer the barometer of a PL rival? What if a David Moyes ‘inspired’ Dark Side lose 10 times this season and slip out of the top four – it’ll be of little comfort to City if they themselves are trailing behind London’s newly found title challenge.
The biggest threat to City comes not from Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea or that lot from Trafford. It comes from within as it did last season. It’s a matter of focus and desire – simples!
Judgement Day does not dawn in September, October or November. This new-look City, with Pellegrini’s more expansive style of play, should be more closely scrutinised upon the completion of the CL Group stage in December in alignment with the club’s position in the PL.
Last week MP was an all conquering hero – three wins in three different competitions, 12 scored only one conceded and City were the Majestic Masters of Manchester. One defeat – as unpalatable as it was – shouldn’t detract from what will ultimately be a very pleasing bigger picture.
Oh, and as for finding every possible positive in the face of adversity – the Holte End snack bar does a very satisfying hot dog and onions!
By David Walker