Manchester City’s champs became chumps as complacency, sloppiness and fatigue provided an escape route for a battling Burnley to pull back two goals and gain a deserved point.
In a pathetic second half display – right up there with the CSKA Moscow debacle – City imploded with an error strewn, lack lustre offering, one that contradicted all the credit accumulated in a nine-game winning streak.
The ‘p’ in professional was replaced by a ‘p’ for pathetic as City’s title defence descended into an abject exhibition. They were outfought and, amazingly, outplayed for long periods by Sean Dyche’s fitter, hungrier and more powerful side.
Ex-City FA Youth Cup winners Kieran Trippier and Ben Mee must’ve thought Father Christmas had arrived three days late, as the club that deemed them not good enough, swanned around like Big Time Charlies, heading for an inevitable fall.
Striker-less once again, the majestic brilliance of David Silva (four goals in three games) and a sumptuous slice of Samba finishing from Fernandinho, had given City a deserved 2-0 half time advantage.
The Champions obviously thought they were as good as home and hosed in a criminal example of over confidence. Such crass thinking was thought to be a thing of the past – sadly not.
It was the lowly visitors who were prepared to ‘Fight ‘Till the End’ not Pellegrini’s prima donnas.
Admittedly Burnley found a more than willing ally in the awful officiating of Kevin Friend – who produced a lopsided display of congeniality towards the visitors – one which extended to a blatantly offside goal.
Alice band-wearing, George Boyd – the scutty little Scot who spat at Joe Hart while playing for Hull City last season – was clearly beyond the last defender when his deft flick from Danny Ings’ cross, eluded a hapless Hart.
Offside or not, Hart was hopeless as he conceded a second howler in two days, following his mis-punch at WBA.
Having just signed up for another four-and-a-half years, Joe needs to up his game…and while he’s at it learn how to kick straight. His distribution is often worse than that of express parcel carriers, Yodel and City Link.
None of Pellegrini’s players can escape the roll call of second half dishonour, although Aleksander Kolarov had a head start on his team mates, being just as useless in both 45-minute periods.
Mangala and Demichelis had looked comfortable and effective together in the absence of Kompany, but Burnley’s rough tough strikers Ashley Barnes and Ings had the better of them all day long.
City’s midfield, previously creative, hard working and incisive was simply blown away by a Burnley team who, with approximately half of the home side’s possession, were more accomplished and direct.
James Milner laboured long and hard but to little effect as the stand-in centre forward and the chances of him departing the Etihad, either in January or next summer, seems to be increasing.
The England utility man has cited a lack of first team opportunities as the principle reason for leaving City on a Bosman, but the prospect of a £10m payday from a new employer has surely crossed his mind.
Pellegrini stated his players were tired after playing on WBA’s heavy snow laden pitch less than 48 hours earlier, but when you consider Burnley were putting out the same starting XI for the fifth game on the bounce, it really doesn’t wash.
Zabaleta and Kolarov were in for Sagna and Clichy as part of City’s squad rotation policy, but Yaya Toure’s absence was more of a mystery as Fernandinho started ahead of the Ivorian.
Magnanimous Manuel said Burnley deserved their point and few could argue, but what an opportunity missed as Premier League leaders, Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw at Southampton.
Only time will tell whether this draw is significant come May 24th – could it turn out to be a point gained rather than two dropped? It certainly feels like the latter at the moment…as it did when Sunderland snatched a 2-2 draw at The Etihad, before City went on to win the PL.
As has been pointed out to me ‘You can’t win them all’ and never a truer word spoken, BUT, when you’re the Champions of England, 2-0 up at half time, on your home territory against opponents languishing in the relegation zone, it’s pretty unforgivable.
For a third consecutive game City were missing any recognised senior forward, skipper Vincent Kompany and, on this occasion, Yaya into the bargain.
Nonetheless there cannot be any adequate excuse.
Conversely, back in early November, any City fan offered a deal of nine wins and a draw to see out 2014 would surely have taken it?
When languishing eight points behind Chelsea, and knowing any stumble could see Mourinho’s synchronised diving squad go 11 points clear, what self respecting City fan would have refused a position of sitting just three points behind Chelski as the New Year dawns?
Pellegrini’s maths have improved somewhat since Bayern Munich in December 2013, and he’s quick to emphasise there are still 57 points to be plundered. A vital three of those on January 31st would go a long way to deciding the destination of the PL crown.
Once the anger and disappointment of a thankfully rare show of gutless football from City, subsides another ‘p’ word comes onto the radar – perspective.
Pellegrini has had to deal with players suffering a World Cup hangover, UEFA Financial Fair Play constraints which undoubtedly had an adverse impact on City’s transfer dealings last summer and a pretty horrendous spate of injuries to key players.
The fact City are second with the prospect of Kompany’s imminent return, Jovetic potentially staying fit for longer than it takes to boil an egg and Sergio and Edin back by mid-January, is cause for optimism.
What isn’t so clear is what leverage will City have in the January transfer window? How limited are the funds, thanks to Michel Pratini?
A new striker would seem an imperative, but high calibre strikers don’t come cheap.
How ironic that the likes of lower league forwards Barnes and Ings – costing next-to-nothing in relative terms – could wreak such havoc in City’s defence.
Could Txiki Begiristain broker a deal with a club for a prize asset in a similar fashion to Valencia’s loan signing of Alvaro Negredo? It’s a loan deal but the La Liga outfit are compelled to pay City £25m this coming summer.
Had that fee factored into the FFP equation, and a last minute deal to sell Matija Nastasic not have gone pear-shaped, City may well have already had a fourth striker on the books.
The out-of-favour Nastasic and the recently re-appeared ‘Invisible Man’, Scott Sinclair, along with John Guidetti, on loan at Celtic, could bring in £15m+ in transfer fees, to help fund any acquisitions.
And then of course, there’s the situation with Milner. Will he sign, will he go on a free next summer or will City be forced to try and cash in?
City would do well to bring in at least one addition, ideally two, but January is a seller’s market and thankfully City no longer do knee-jerk, over inflated transfer deals.
They can but hope they won’t pay too heavy a price for their bungling against Burnley.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu