Languishing in a far from magnificent seventh place, six points off the summit of the Premier League with three away defeats before November – Manchester City can still be crowned champions next May.
Doubtless there’ll be howls of derision, accusations of being a sanctimonious ‘happy clapper’ and totally delusional, but in the wake of this cruellest and most unjust of defeats, City’s Engineer can fix his machine.
Manuel Pellegrini’s battle plan to if not to take The Bridge, to at least contain Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, minus his Commander of Ground Forces – Captain Vincent Kompany – was a hair’s breadth away from being accomplished.
Of course, the focus is all on City keeper Joe Hart after his calamitous last minute mix-up with Matija Nastasic served up a gift wrapped dollop of redemption for Chelsea’s fallen idol, Fernando Torres.
It was a hideous howler that, in a stroke, transformed a tactically savvy, soundly engineered draw, into what some would have us believe is an irrecoverable seismic slip up, which has the Hart haters and Pellegrini detractors wildly salivating.
Led like clueless lambs by a media that likes nothing more than to twist the knife between City’s shoulder blades, our football crazy nation is probably of the opinion that The Engineer wouldn’t know one end of a spanner from another.
I beg to differ, albeit with one vital caveat.
A defence, constantly disrupted by injuries whilst trying to adjust to wholesale change from a zonal to a man-marking system, has to tighten up… and pretty damn quickly.
The absence of Kompany is gargantuan. His influence is profound and the drop in quality when he’s not in the team is frightening. That said, the skipper was culpable with Nastasic for Aston Villa’s winner in City’s ridiculous reversal at Villa Park, last month.
All the emphasis in undoubtedly strengthening the team this summer, with the arrivals of Fernandinho, Navas, Negredo and, to a lesser degree at this stage, Jovetic, saw the potential defensive flaws ignored.
But there again, the shortcomings were not obvious to see – this was a Roberto Mancini manufactured defence, that had delivered the best ‘goals against’ record in the PL for three consecutive seasons.
Centre back is the position where the alarm bells have been ringing all season long. If VK isn’t there it can be Manchester mayhem at the back.
The sooner the Belgian Boulder returns – and stays fit – the better.
City ARE the best team in the PL with Kompany in the ranks. Nonetheless, Pellegrini will surely want to spend whatever it takes to recruit a top, top quality central defender in January.
He also needs to bring in a goalkeeper to push or even surpass Hart – in the short term.
Hart is a superb player who should be at City for the next 8 –10 years. On his day he’s world class but, for whatever reasons, he is suffering at present.
Do City need a new goalkeeping coach? Will Joe benefit from temporarily being removed from the firing line? Is he left exposed to often by a defensive unit struggling with a new dictate?
The witch-hunt of recent weeks has been disproportionate, but something is undoubtedly amiss. But, for all of those screaming for surgery to remove Hart from the team, who would they have as his replacement?
If not Joe, who is the man to infuse confidence between the sticks into a dilapidated City defence?
This inquest would not even be on the agenda had City been rewarded with the point that their efforts so richly deserved yesterday.
Sergio Aguero was sublime as a sole striker as Pellegrini displayed his tactical malleability.
City’s adored Argentine scored his ninth goal in seven appearances – an absolute screamer – to bring City level after they’d fallen behind to Schurrle’s opener.
Torres had skinned Gael Clichy for pace down City’s left flank, before teeing up the classy German for the simplest of goals.
Awarded the Man of the Match laurels, Aguero saw the end of his quirky record of never having been on a losing City team when he’d scored in the PL.
It speaks volumes of City’s second half performance that only the most dyed-in-the-wool Chelsea fans would deny they deserved full time parity. Jose Mourinho’s men could and should have been 3-0 up by half time.
Cahill and Torres both found themselves bewilderingly onside as City’s back line was more marshmallow than well marshalled. Thankfully both blasted their gilt-edged opportunities over the bar.
Martin Demichelis making a surprise debut, given his lack of match fitness, was no better or worse than Zabaleta, Nastasic and Clichy in a unit, displaying all the togetherness of a Swiss cheese, with gaps aplenty.
Fernandinho worked tirelessly tidying up with tackles, dispossessing the opposition and thwarting Chelsea’s attacking threat.
Javi Garcia,trying to make a decent fist of slotting into his preferred midfield role, was selected ahead of the more robust James Milner. The jury is still out on whether the Spanish international brings enough to the party. Only time will tell.
His compatriot, David Silva, most definitely does, constantly linking smoothly with the effervescent Aguero, to pose City’s counter-attacking threat along, with Samir Nasri.
But it was Garcia and Silva’s countryman, Torres who underwent something of a zero-to-hero metamorphosis during the play. His 28th minute miss from six yards out, whilst totally unmarked, was what we have come to expect of Fernando in royal blue.
His cross for Chelsea’s opener, his sensational strike that struck the crossbar in the 37th minute and his goal-poaching, never-say-die instincts for the last minute coup de grace, was much more in keeping with his red-shirted glory days at Liverpool.
As the ex-pin up boy of Spanish football chased down City’s young Serb centre back, there was almost a premonition of impending horror as Hart ventured to intercept the threat.
The cacophony of sound no doubt swallowed up any shout resembling ‘Keeper’s’ from Joe. Matija couldn’t leave the ball in flight – inertia wasn’t an option.
What followed was a football tragedy for two young City players with so much left to give. Both have the potential and ability to rise above this setback – and that need be all it is – and come roaring back.
Mourinho showed a lack of respect and class in his crazy goal celebrations. Pellegrini countered with contempt and disdain for his nemesis, but in so doing, displayed a steely resolve to stamp out ‘stupid’ errors.
No handshakes, no bland niceties and no doubt City are not where they want to be at this stage of the season.
Nine games down and 29 to play, City have the players, manager and abilities to put this tale of West London woe behind them.
There are many vociferous and vitriolic City fans who want to discard Joe Hart like yesterday’s rubbish, who have never put their faith in Manuel Pellegrini and never understood why Bobby Manc was sacked.
I am not among them, but irrespective of divisions in the sky blue support, City fans must continue to back their team in a season that could yet be the club’s greatest ever.
By David Walker www.readbutneverred.com @djwskyblu
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