On the basis that one swallow doesn’t make a summer then one bluebird flying high, shouldn’t mean a long, cold winter lies ahead for Manchester City.
Yes, the defeat at Cardiff City was unexpected – some would argue unacceptable – but the knee-jerk over reaction by the twitchy naysayers among City’s support is equally unpalatable.
The more shallow among the sky blue brethren went into social media meltdown in the wake of the shock 3-2 defeat. Of course, everybody is entitled to an opinion but why so much bile and vitriol towards tried, tested and, in my eyes, trusted City campaigners?
A cacophony of criticism was excreted from poisonous pundits and reactionary City fans over one of the world’s finest goalkeepers – Joe Hart. Yes, City’s brilliant 26-year old keeper, had an off-day, but even then he pulled off two fine stops that would have seen City concede twice before Fraizer Campbell scored with a brace of unchallenged headers.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but how was Manuel Pellegrini supposed to know that City’s much loved Player of the Season 2012/13, Pablo Zabaleta, would have perhaps his worst game in all his 196 appearances for the club?
Likewise, how do you legislate for stalwarts such as Yaya Toure and David Silva losing possession in such slipshod fashion and with such alarming regularity?
Joleon Lescott and Javi Garcia looked as secure as a set of Frank Spencer-erected shelves (for those under the age of 40 ask your parents!) at the heart of City’s dilapidated defence.
City underperformed just about everywhere so this was a collective cock-up, not one where individual players deserved to be pilloried.
There’s no ‘i’ in team but there sure as hell is in City and everybody – players, manager and coaching staff need to stand up and be counted. After all, a season of 37 wins and just one defeat deserves a standing ovation (ok – perhaps a tad optimistic).
The fact is a City side, adapting to a new manager’s dictate e.g. man-marking not zonal marking, playing a very high defensive line and bedding in new players and systems will inevitably take time in competitive matches.
Monday night’s Manure and Chelski stalemate was a good result given what had gone down in the Dragon’s Den in the Welsh capital, and showed City have nothing to fear other than their own incompetence.
Saturday’s combination of the Tigers led by the Elephant Man, keeps City’s zoological opening to the season going and, with a lunchtime kick-off, City have to get back to feasting on any prey that presents itself at the Etihad carvery.
Hart must start because he is a class act and will more than redeem the occasional gaffe over the course of a season. It’s to be hoped Matija Nastasic is properly fit to play and not press ganged if not fully recovered from his ankle injury. Pellegrini has said the young Serb is ready to play – let’s hope so.
Micah Richards will once again be missing – for one so robust he is incredibly fragile and susceptible to debilitating knocks, pulls and tears. A real asset to City with his power, speed and aerial ability, it counts for nothing if he’s vying to have the Roque Santa Cruz Rest Area renamed Richard’s Retreat.
Pellegrini will undoubtedly be splashing the cash before Monday’s 23.00 transfer window deadline on defensive reinforcements, but City may as well play Mollie Zaba – my cockapoo puppy – at centre back, rather than Javi Garcia.
A more sensible approach would be to play the once prodigious Dedryk Boyata alongside Joleon Lescott for a balanced left foot and right foot combination, IF – and it’s a big if, Nastasic does not start for whatever reason.
Once a rising star, the young Belgian defender’s stock plummeted during an ignominious season with a relegated Bolton side, before being sent back early from a loan spell with FC Twente in the Netherlands.
That said, Boyata, featured in the Audi Cup Final against Bayern Munich and looked every inch the starlet who stepped up in the early days of Roberto Mancini’s reign.
The defensive discombobulations of last Sunday apart, the lack of fight within the City team was most disconcerting. Yaya and Fernandinho ought to be a power-packed, piston-pumping, high performing partnership, creating and destroying in equal measure.
But what did we get – pathetic passing and a powder-puff impact on the midfield play.
Whereas there was always an air of vulnerability in a defence shorn of Kompany and Nastasic, there was nothing to suggest City’s newly rejuvenated attacking prowess would be so easily blunted by a pretty ordinary looking Cardiff backline.
Granted, Edin Dzeko scored a cracking 30 yard drive, but he continues to underwhelm on a consistent basis. Yes, the big Bosnian will score goals but at what ratio in relation to genuine chances and attempts?
A Dzeko-Aguero strike duo was never seen as the best under Mancini, with Tevez and Balotelli as options, and perhaps it’s time to unleash the Beast and get Alvaro Negredo firing from the off.
He has more natural aggression than Dzeko and has already shown he knows his way to the back of the net with a stunning pre-season goal against a top drawer Bayern Munich, a looping header in South Wales and an incorrectly disallowed knock-in against Newcastle.
Whether Stevan Jovetic will have recovered to even be considered for the subs bench remains to be seen, but with Silva, Navas, Nasri and Milner all fighting to support Sergio – surely he will be selected – City should be back to winning ways.
In the past two seasons City have become accustomed to not losing a Premier League game until December – to lose twice before September would be alarming in the extreme.
This report is dedicated to the memory of my Dad – Joseph Colin Walker – the best father any child could ever have. He died this day, 17 years ago and not a day goes by when I don’t miss him or wish I could have been taken in his place.
Never really into football he preferred brass bands and military history. He took me to my first ever match – Crystal Palace away in August 1970 with Alan Oakes scoring the winner.
Once, having taken me to Highbury to see City against Arsenal, he was asked who played the best? He replied ‘The Metropolitan Police Brass Band, during the half-time interval…’
Rest in peace Pa…one day – maybe, just maybe, I’ll see you in Sky Blue Heaven…
By David Walker