The protocol that requires the Premier League programme be postponed to accommodate international fixtures is about as popular as flatulence in a space suit for the majority of fans who follow the fortunes of England’s elite clubs.
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini isn’t much of an advocate either, especially if it means the skipper of his team turns out for his country, having previously missed two months and eight games for his club.
Club versus country debate aside, City will welcome the return of a fit Vincent Kompany to at least consolidate the runners-up slot, with the retention of the PL title now a distant pipedream.
The absence of Captain Colossus Kompany to a debilitating calf injury in late January looks, to all intent and purpose, to have been the catalyst for City’s capitulation in the defence of their champions’ crown.
Just eight points garnered from a potential 18, in the absence of the inspirational Belgian, set the seal on the painful spectacle of seeing Manure surge ahead at the top of the table.
In truth, it is neither Kompany’s absence or the performance of his colleagues in the defence corps that has cost City so dear. The reason why sky blue ribbons will succumb to red on the PL trophy has more to do with what has – or rather hasn’t – been going on at the other end of the field.
An attack boasting Aguero, Balotelli, Dzeko and Tevez last August is 20 goals lighter at this stage of the season than in 2012. By contrast, City’s defence is on course to be the best in the top flight for a third successive season.
Just 26 goals conceded in 29 games and 13 clean sheets to the good, make something of a mockery of Mancini’s assertion that he should have bought a centre back in the January transfer window.
Hindsight, as everyone knows, is a most wonderful thing, but it was an inability to sign Robin Van Persie – when City had initially stolen a march on Slur Baconface in pursuit of the Dutch goal machine – that has been their undoing.
It’s naïve and simplistic to subtract RVP’s goals from United’s haul and add them to City’s. It would, nonetheless, supply a damning indictment on how the fortunes of the Manchester clubs would be polar opposites to that of the painful reality that now befalls the blue half (more like four-fifths) of the city.
But, as the saying goes, ‘We are where we are’ and, for Manchester City that doesn’t have to be where the malevolent Mancini-mauling media would have you believe.
Had it not been for that magical moment at 93.20 minutes of the match against QPR last May, expectations might not have been raised so high. Had the Agueroooooooo goal – now etched indelibly into the psyche of English football – not happened, City would now be sitting pretty to emulate their highest ever PL placing, and contemplating the prospect of a second FA Cup win in three years.
Yes, it hurts that Mancini’s men will not be winning back-to-back titles, but the PL Champions flag will flutter proudly over the Etihad on many occasions in the years to come – of that there should be little doubt.
City will spend – and spend big – this summer with a significant churn of incomings and outgoings. A school of thought exists that, ever mindful of the necessity to comply with UEFA’s flawed Financial Fair Play regulations, City’s hierarchy knowingly ‘undercooked their goose’ by adopting a frugal policy on transfers.
Of course owner, Sheikh Mansour and chairman, Khaldoon El Mubarak did not plan to fail but they took a pragmatic view of one step back to take three steps forward.This has bought time to develop more commercial revenue streams and ultimately get high earning, under achievers off the wage bill.
The prospective departures of Dzeko, Nasri, Kolo, Kolarov, Lescott, Sinclair, Maicon, plus finally jettisoning the final remnants of Mark Hughes’ flawed transfer judgements – Wayne Bridge and Roque Santa Cruz – will generate in excess of £60m in fees to add to the £20m generated from the sale of Mario Balotelli.
Transfer speculation will grow into a crescendo as we move through April and May but, in Txiki Begiristain, City have massively upgraded their negotiating position. The savvy Spaniard replaces Brian Marwood as the key negotiator in player recruitment and he has a hugely impressive track record, evidenced by his success at Barcelona.
City still have the capacity to splash the cash on fees and wages, but no longer have to pay overinflated packages to attract the best of the best. Their new found pedigree and driving ambition now means the top players WILL consider moves to the club on merit.
But before the transfer merry-go-round starts up, City must maintain focus and ensure the season finishes with a bang, not a whimper.
It starts with a need to continue their fantastic record against the visiting Geordies. In the last dozen meetings, City have won ten and drawn two – it had better not be unlucky 13 for Mancini against Alan Pardew’s ‘Barcodes’.
Fit again Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure should start, along with Kompany, as City restore both spine and backbone to the team and, with it, a return to the swagger and enterprise that served them so well in the past.
With Newcastle just six points off the drop zone, the Toon Army will give hearty backing to try and reverse United’s poor showing on their travels – one win, five draws and nine defeats away from the ‘Citadel’ of St James’ Park – so far this campaign.
With Micah Richards and Maicon the only remaining injury casualties, Mancini has a full strength line up at his disposal. The intense Italian now openly concedes the loss of the title, but the fires still burn within and he recognises the necessity to get back to winning ways after the paucity of performance at Goodison Park a fortnight past.
History will show this season was but a minor blip for City en-route to an era of domination in English football. If ‘blip’ can be defined as a comfortable second spot and a sixth FA Cup triumph, then I for one will happily embrace it.