There was something distinctly surreal about City’s routine seasonal home win over the not-so ‘Boing Boing Baggies’.
The dreaded lunchtime kick-off and the aftermath of Wednesday night’s humbling in Barcelona, meant this was always going to be an understated affair…but still, it managed to produce its fair share of shocks and surprises.
A sending off with 89 seconds of kick-off is unusual, even more so when it’s the wrong player being shown the red card.
Referee Neil Swarbrick maintained the abysmal standards set by his colleagues all season long, by giving Albion’s Gareth McAuley his marching orders in another case of mistaken identity.
Wilfried Bony opened his City goals account on just his second Premier League start for his new club, albeit some foolish folk had already begun casting aspersions on the wisdom of his £25m acquisition from Swansea.
The Ivorian strong man could and probably should, have been awarded Man of the Match honours. He showed what City can expect in the weeks, months and years that lie ahead – a strong leader of the front line who will give a great return on investment.
Bony’s first strike in sky blue contrasted with a multitude of club and individual milestones that came to the fore, in a game where an alleged 45,018 crowd mustered all the atmosphere of a Tupperware party on the moon.
Super Frankie Lampard, making an all too rare start for City, notched up his 1,000th appearance in senior level football. Manuel Pellegrini took charge of his 100th game as City boss. Joe Hart kept his 100th clean sheet in City’s goal, while at the opposite end, Fernando – of all players – scored City’s 1000th goal of the club’s Premier League tenure.
So much history in the making and still plenty of room for irony, self deprecating humour and corner kick controversy.
Following Bony’s well executed 27th minute opener, it was the much maligned Fernando who stabbed the ball home 13 minutes later, taking City’s PL goal tally into four figures.
It stemmed from a corner kick – City’s 262nd corner since Martin Demichelis headed an equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Arsenal, back in September. City’s abysmal corner kicking has been a hot topic all season long.
The question was, did the goal derive directly from a corner, or was it in a second phase of play? If it’s the latter, City are now up to 270 corners and no goals scored.
Fernando, having what many saw as his best game in a City shirt, was also reported to have later apologised for his goal, explaining that he’d lost his bearings, wasn’t sure which way he was facing and that his shot was actually intended as a square pass…(it’s a joke for goodness sake).
In other breaking news for anorak statisticians, City mustered 26 first half shots on goal, the most in a top flight English game since 2003/04, and 43 by the final whistle – one of which David Silva deflected in for his 11th league goal of the season.
As for Joe ‘BraveHart’ of Barcelona, who produced the most saves ever by an English keeper in the Champions League, he was completely redundant as Tony Pulis’ pugilists failed to land a single metaphorical glove on Hart’s goal.
It had been oh so different in the Catalan capital, where England’s finest had produced one of the most mesmerising goalkeeping displays of modern times.
Thankfully the El Barca masses weren’t familiar with the City ditty ‘It should have been 10, it should’ve been 10…’ otherwise a Spanish derivation could have been echoing around the sprawling, dilapidated expanse of the Camp Nou.
With so much speculation and repercussions rippling around in the wake of City’s Champions League exit, there were some notable absentees from the line-up against Albion.
Petulant Samir Nasri, booked in Barcelona when he could so easily have been sent off for violent conduct, was conspicuous by his absence. Aleksander Kolarov, booked for body-checking Lionel Messi didn’t make the sub’s bench, whereas Yaya Toure was missing through injury.
Even if fit, would the lumbering Ivorian have warranted a place after his lacklustre loafing around in Barcelona?
Yaya has been a critical factor in City’s success, ever since Roberto Mancini signed him from Barcelona and converted him into a world class attacking midfielder.
He was by far the most influential player in last season’s Premier League title win, but, less than two months shy of his 32nd birthday, is it time for him to leave the Etihad as City revamp an ageing team that isn’t going to get any better?
The only way City can accommodate Yaya – now a luxury item – is to deploy him as a No 10 – excused from defensive duties, tracking back and any collective work ethic.
His return from a successful African Cup of Nations, where he captained the Ivory Coast to victory, was supposed to reignite City’s PL title defence and drive them on, deep into the Champions League knockout stages.
He talks a great match – as does Nasri – but that’s mainly what both do nowadays – just talk. Edin Dzeko let’s his body language do his talking – he has done all season and, bar one good show against Newcastle, failed to deliver.
And yet Manuel Pellegrini is the one getting all the flak for City’s ineptitude in the PL and their stumbling in the Champions League.
With eight league games to go it’s time City realised the need to balance the books, in both apportioning blame for ‘failure’ and shaping up for the summer transfer window.
Yaya, Nasri, Dzeko, Kolarov, Fernando, Navas, Jovetic should all go, along with the inevitable departures of Lampard and Milner.
Such an exodus is essential if City are to raise funds to refresh a squad that has lost its appetite for success.
Say what you like about Alex Sir Baconface Ferguson and his detestable Red scummers, but they somehow maintained their hunger and desire for title after title after title. City don’t have it in their DNA at present.
It would be arrogant to expect unremitting success for City in this new era of wealth and expectations, but it shouldn’t be wrong to expect a bunch of multi-millionaire players to stretch every muscle and sinew trying to achieve it.
Clearly some don’t.
Past glories can no longer mitigate for a lack of application and effort. If buyers can be found among the likes of Inter Milan, PSG, Wolfsburg, Juventus and Sevilla, then City might recoup £100m or so.
The club has failed to land a stellar signing since Sergio Aguero FOUR YEARS ago. That has to change this summer if City have realistic ambitions to be England’s top club once again, and at least compete properly with Europe’s best.
How much will be at Pellegrini’s disposal – assuming Manuel is kept on for the third and final year of his contract – remains to be seen.
Another factor unknown to the masses is, who actually calls the shots in City’s transfer dealings?
If Sheikh Mansour demands that MP up his game, surely the same must apply to Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain.
Looking further ahead, if City’s masterplan is to have Pep Guardiola succeed Pellegrini in 2016 – if not before – will the Bayern Munich coach have any off-the-radar say in who City should be targeting this summer?
Stranger things have happened.
It’s almost as strange as City scoring from a corner after 262 attempts…but there again, that remains a matter for debate.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu