Character is a word often abused in football parlance.
How often do we hear a player or a manager, a pundit or a commentator trot out how a team has shown ‘character’, simply because they’ve been a goal or two behind, staged a ‘comeback’ and earned a draw or a win?
The noun is bandied around like confetti at a wedding where all the guests have taken advantage of the ‘buy one, get one free’ jumbo-size box of confetti offer.
Character is defined as a combination of qualities distinguishing a person, group or place. Instead of prattling on about ‘character’ the football world would be better off commenting on a player or a team simply doing their job, performing to the best of their abilities, both individually and collectively.
In the absence of their entire senior strike force of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic, Manchester City, with a wealth of talent at their disposal, need to do a job on Crystal Palace – and the hell with character.
If a team containing David Silva, Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure, Frank Lampard, James Milner and the latterly prolific Pablo Zabaleta (well, two goals in a week is going some for Zaba) cannot break down, get behind or go through the middle of Neil Warnock’s backline, then City’s hopes of retaining their title will be in peril.
Of course the Premier League will not be won or lost at the Etihad on Saturday lunchtime, but if a striker-less City struggle to break down an organised and determined Palace, who’s to say they’ll fair any better over the festive period against WBA, Burnley and Sunderland?
City have been dealt a devastatingly bad hand to have their forward line removed from the front line of Premier League action.
Rather than bemoaning the fact, Manuel Pellegrini is reshaping his side to cope with City’s misfortune, get sufficient goals to bag maximum points, stretch his side’s league winning streak to eight games, and eventually make it 11 by New Year’s Day night.
It’ll be far from easy, despite City’s next four opponents all coming from the bottom half of the division.
Young Jose Angel Pozo may have a part to play as a specialist forward, but it’s asking a lot of an 18-year old kid to lead the line…but the fact is there may not be a line to lead.
Pellegrini could make a virtue from a vice, go with a ‘false number 9’ approach and have City’s attacking midfielders, inter-change positions and unbalance the Palace rearguard.
There’s even been a suggestion that in the midst of an injury crisis and a need for speed and attacking width, City’s Invisible Man – Scott Sinclair – could have a role to play.
With goals at a premium, extra pressure and weight of expectation falls onto City’s defence. Shorn of the injured Vincent Kompany, the key to City success may rest on keeping it clean and building on the shutouts against Southampton, Everton, Roma and Leicester City.
Joe Hart, fresh from signing a new four-and-a-half year commitment to City, Eliaquim Mangala, Martin Demichelis, Gael Clichy and Zaba have shown real quality as a unit in recent weeks. It must continue.
Fernando and Fernandinho have been ‘F’ing immense in recent outings and a clean sheet means City can grind out 1-0 or 2-0 wins, at a time when results are paramount and performances are allowed a large portion of pragmatism.
The Etihad crowd – unlikely to be at capacity on what is notoriously the worst attended weekend of the year in grounds up and down the country – need to exercise patience and avoid panic against Palace.
It’s just eight days shy of a year since City had 76% possession, but had to be reliant on a solitary Edin Dzeko goal to overcome Tony Pulis’ resolute Palace.
A similar outcome will do just fine this time around, albeit it won’t be at the behest of the Bosnian’s boot.
Victory would mean City are 75% of the way to fulfilling Manuel Pellegrini’s rallying cry, issued following the disappointing 2-2 draw at QPR on November 8th.
With doubts surrounding the manager’s ability and fans fearing a second capitulation in a title defending season, City’s everso slightly distrusted MP had called for a 100% win ratio in the eight remaining PL fixtures of 2014.
If it is achieved against a backdrop of damaged knee ligaments, pulled hamstrings and strained calf muscles it will have nothing to do with ‘character’.
It will have everything to do with professionalism, and extremely well paid players doing their jobs to the levels anticipated.
Come kick off time it’ll be a case of the Etihad expects…
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu