Halloween came early to the Etihad this week with a horrific display of premature capitulation as Newcastle United shot two rounds of live ammunition past Willy, dumping a bunch of Manchester City wonkers out of the League Cup.
Under fire Manuel Pellegrini must now stiffen City’s resolve, light the sky blue touch paper and orchestrate a pyrotechnical pulverization of Manchester United.
There can be no better way to illuminate City’s recently dimmed fortunes than producing a blinding display against the Dark Side.
Vincent Kompany & Co have to take personal and collective responsibility to get City back on an upward trajectory. It’s far too easy to heap all the criticism on Pellegrini – the on-field duds and blanks must be exposed and eradicated from Manchester City’s supply of munitions before the season implodes.
The match up with Manure’s Gaalactico’s is a must win and City’s sole focus. CSKA and any Champions League fireworks can wait until Monday morning.
For decades Manchester City’s supporters suffered through thin, thin and anorexic times, the battle hardened diehards earning their badges of honour at glamorous outposts such as Lincoln’s Sincil Bank and York’s Bootham Crescent.
It was muck and bullets, trench warfare football, hand-to-hand combat for those who ‘wore the shirt’. It was an existence light years removed from the sophisticated tactics and strategies, bowling green work surfaces and ridiculously pampered lifestyle of today’s players.
Irrespective of opulence or poverty, success or failure, the one omnipresent factor that true City fans seek from any player is effort – a sweat drenched shirt and body language that screams volumes of an individual’s commitment to the cause.
City fans love a ‘tryer’ and, despite the joy and wonderment of two Premier League titles and two domestic cups in four years, any player who is prepared to be a passenger is identified and ostracized.
James Milner stood out in Wednesday’s lamentable loss to the Toon – the Barcodes first success over City in nine years and 18 games.
‘Jimmy’ is a credit to the City shirt. He doesn’t short change his employers or the fans. He chases lost causes, he tracks back, he’s unselfish, he gets ‘stuck in’ and of course, he’s a talented England international and established Premier League performer.
Quite rightly, City are mega-keen for Milner to sign a new contract and commit himself to the club for the next four years. He deserves the recognition and reward, but lest we forget, the fact he is ‘homegrown’ is not an insignificant factor.
The fact that he is often cited by many as City’s outstanding performer of recent times is a paradoxical reflection as to why the team are not top of the Premier League, or brushing aside the likes of AS Roma and CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.
Milner is a great asset to City but in terms of pure technical playing ability and the capacity to influence a game he should – should – be well behind the likes of Yaya Toure.
Yaya’s eventful summer including farce and tragedy in equal measure, has cast a shadow over his future at City, mirrored in some mediocre displays amid growing levels of frustration and exasperation at his failure to consistently deliver the goods.
Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect him to emulate the scintillating form of 2013/14 when he should have been the Football Writer’s and PFA Player of the Year. Nonetheless, Yaya is, rightly or wrongly, perceived as the embodiment of City’s present malaise.
His languid manner has, in the past, been counterbalanced by an unstoppable stampeding style, one that rips the opposition apart as he steams through teams in runaway juggernaut mode.
It’s about time City’s talismanic Ivorian colossus stepped up to be counted and lead by example. Undeniably a ‘big-game’ player, Yaya has an opportunity to truly redeem himself in the eyes of tens of thousands of City fans in this, the 159th Manchester derby.
With David Silva missing for the next month or so, Yaya needs to pick up the baton and orchestrate affairs.
Merlin’s absence will be a bitter, but not necessarily insurmountable, loss and it isn’t as if Pellegrini doesn’t have options.
Does the Chilean persevere with Aguero and Dzeko up front and give a lively Stevan Jovetic a start in Silva’s place? Does the City boss put his faith in Samir Nasri, plunged into the lacklustre Capital Punishment Cup performance in midweek, after returning from surgery?
Alternatively, does the thus far widely trusted MP, opt for a sole striker and play Yaya just behind him, bolstered by a four man midfield of Fernando, Fernandinho, Milner and Nasri?
Truth is, City are constantly overrun in the middle of the park by teams who have more numbers, a greater desire to win and a stronger work ethic.
It could be Pellegrini’s rigid formations, his attacking philosophies and less than pragmatic approach that is to blame. Equally, there are players who need to look across at the likes of Milner and match him for intensity and application.
We’ve seen West Ham and Newcastle end long losing, or at least, not winning, streaks over City, in the past few days.
It’s often stated that misfortune comes in ‘3s’ – so let’s hope that the CSKA away fiasco was the first instalment, and City being killed off by a murder of Magpies was the last.
If City’s run of three consecutive Premier League ‘derby’ wins comes to a shuddering halt by mid-afternoon Sunday, Pellegrini’s men will be trailing Chelsea by a significant margin – seven, God forbid, nine points.
Yes, 84 points would still be up for grabs, but how often does Mourinho allow a sizeable advantage slip? Answer; he doesn’t.
City have had a challenging opening to their title defence with games against Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs, winning two and deserving maximum points in the others.
No matter which way you look at it, City have the wrong mentality when playing against teams perceived as being less of a threat. Complacency, even arrogance, must figure in the equation and it has to be eradicated.
Yaya and more recently, Dzeko are the players targeted for under-performing but some of City’s ‘untouchables’, the likes of Zabaleta and Kompany, have also fallen below their own impeccable standards at times this season.
City’s purchases from Porto, Fernando and Mangala – at nearly £50m – are still finding their feet in a foreign land and a league where the game is played way above the tempo in Portugal.
But it’s that word – tempo – which is the key to City winning the derby, gaining confidence and reviving a rapidly flagging season.
The cornerstone of both Premier League winning campaigns has been one-touch, pass and go football. What we have at present is an infuriating brand of go-slow tiki-taka e.g. how many ways can we try and walk the ball into the net?
Louis Van Gaal is his usual bullish self, talking up United’s chances, courtesy of the attacking dimensions presented by Di Maria, Van Persie and Rooney. Falcao will be absent.
Di Maria is the danger and in fairness, probably the only United player Pellegrini would’ve liked in his starting XI. Who’s to say the Angel of The Swamp wouldn’t have been in sky blue had it not been for UEFA’s ridiculous Financial Unfair Play rules?
City’s constantly rotating back four has led to a lack of cohesion and unpredictable defending. This gives the Reds genuine hope at the Etihad.
But, take one look at United’s misshapen rearguard and it’s easy to see why Sergio Aguero and Edin, both with four goals in five games against the Trafford Trogolodytes, are looking forward to Sunday lunchtime.
It’s a match up that is bound to have goals and despite City’s shortcomings thus far, and United’s steadily increasing delusion that they are on the way back, the Champions will be up for this one.
The road to sky blue redemption has to begin in M11 3FF in the next 24-hours. Anything less will put City on the road to nowhere in 2015.
By David Walker
Dedications for three true blues who’ll be missing from the derby day proceedings – Ian Jones, who answers to the nickname of ‘JTP – Jones The Post’ now recovering from major surgery, and his lady Tracy Stevenson who’ll be at his hospital bedside. Also a mention in dispatches for Liam Stirrup – better known to many as ‘Stiz’ – MCFC graphic artist & video blogger, ruled out by illness.
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu