It’s often said you learn more in defeat than in victory.
Thankfully Manuel Pellegrini didn’t have to go the whole nine yards to glean new wisdom, but he was halfway to FA Cup humiliation against Watford as the Championship underdogs stirred up a hornet’s nest at the Etihad.
Lessons will have been heeded in adversity as City recovered from a double-barrelled salvo, before swatting away the threat posed by Beppo Sannino’s irritating swarm.
The recently appointed and comparatively unknown Italian manager saw his team emulate the feat of European Champions Bayern Munich, opening up a two goal advantage over City at Fortress Etihad this season.
Strikes from Fernando Forestieri and Troy Deeney within the space of ten first half minutes had threatened to spring the shock result of the competition.
Pellegrini’s team selection looked very strong prior to kick off, but a lethargic collective ‘effort’ and some chronically poor individual performances, had City teetering on the brink of defeat.
Watford thoroughly deserved their 2-0 lead at the interval having shown verve, vitality, invention and belief that far outweighed anything offered by a laboured, disjointed and generally inept City.
Cumbersome doesn’t even come close to describing the centre back pairing of Lescott and Demichelis who were quite simply appalling. They must never be sent out together on first team duty again.
On this showing my Nan would have beaten them for pace, wit and gumption…and she’s been dead for 28 years.
Kolarov – City’s Renaissance Man in rediscovering his finest form this season – regressed into previous bad habits, whereas Richards was about as much use as a one-legged man in a backside kicking challenge.
Micah is perhaps the biggest disappointment in City’s rise to prominence in recent years.
Beset by injuries, possibly due to his own bravery in going in when the boots are flying, the teenage Richards was hailed as a prodigious talent and future England regular – a rock in defence either as a centre back or right back.
It used to be a toss-up between Micah and Pablo Zabaleta at full back. Nowadays there is no comparison. Argentina skipper Zaba, is arguably the best in the Premier League and Micah, by his own admission, has more or less settled for a place in the squad.
As one who has been nurtured through City’s much vaunted Academy of old, City fans are desperate to see a player, now aged 25 and with nearly 250 first team appearances to his name, succeed.
It’s a real dilemma. Sadly, the raw talent so abundant under Stuart Pearce and Sven Goran Eriksson’s managerial reigns, has been replaced by a player who displays alarming misjudgement, a cavalier approach and an infuriating inability to cover his defensive position after gallivanting up field.
Richards is not a completely lost cause and sustained fitness and a focused redevelopment could yet mean he has a future at City, but if it is to happen it needs to be sooner rather than later.
Another City Premier League winner who won’t be afforded that opportunity is Joleon Lescott. It’s clearly a matter of when, and not if, he departs.
Lescott divides opinion among City fans and, whilst being wholly appreciative of his 154 showings in City colours, it’s time to move on as Pellegrini evolves the club’s style of ‘total football’.
City’s boss showed how shrewd he is at half time by ringing the changes and engineering the four goal fight back. The Chilean was quoted as saying that, given the chance, he would have changed all eleven players. He’s no soft touch – oh no!
Off came Richards and Rodwell and on went Zaba and the inspirational Vincent Kompany.
The City captain’s influence on the side is as immense as it is frightening when viewed as a positive or a negative factor. Sergio Aguero is arguably the best player ever to wear a City shirt, but even his sublime brilliance is not as pivotal to City’s success as the presence of the Belgian Boulder.
Astute, admired, respected, Pellegrini is proving an excellent manager but he does have one very worrying ‘blind spot’ when it comes to Martin Demichelis.
It’s not the same as Roberto Mancini’s almost tunnel vision approach to the wayward, talented but undeniably troublesome, Mario Balotelli, but from the outside looking in, it is nonetheless puzzling.
Obviously trusted by Pellegrini, having played for him in both Argentina and Spain, Demichelis is the preferred choice at CB with Kompany.
Given there are still five days left in the transfer window, it can only be hoped that is about to change. Either that or Matija Nastasic is restored – depending on his ability to hit the performance levels of 2012/13.
Bizarrely for a side deprived of its two principal playmakers in David Silva and Samir Nasri, along with top scorer Alvaro Negredo, City still kept up the average of four goals per home game this season – and a bloody good job too!
The introduction of City’s ‘invisible man’ Stevan Jovetic coincided with the commencement of City’s scoring. Youngster Marcos Lopes made way for the Montenegrin and three minutes later the Sergio Show was underway.
Kolarov’s attacking play went up a gear as he zipped in a low cross from the left. Watford keeper Bond saved Dzeko’s effort but Aguero buried the bobbling rebound to make it 1-2.
City’s new found momentum had the plucky Hertfordshire underdogs suddenly lose their first half swagger and tension levels rose in the ranks of the 4,000+ travelling support.
Aguero levelled the score in the 79th minute with a typical super strike from inside the 18-yard box. The architect of the goal was the tireless Jesus Navas who carried the ball from deep inside City territory before feeding to Sergio.
The lippy Watford supporters had long since ceased singing ‘Can we play you every week…’ and the clichéd taunt of all visiting fans of ‘Where were you when you were sh*t?’
With just three minutes of the 90 left to play it looked as if Manchester United’s David de Gea had been giving Watford’s rookie keeper Jonathan Bond, lessons in safe handling.
Kolarov’s speculative 25 yard shot squirmed through Bond’s hands and legs and dribbled over the line in the torrential conditions. The Serbian sniper couldn’t resist a wry smile as City’s own AK47 took the congratulatory thanks of his team mates.
Even then Watford had a chance to peg the score back to 3-3 but Ikechi Anya blazed high and wide as the clock ticked down.
Into added time and Aguero completed the perfect hat-trick – right foot, left foot and a header – as he connected with another Navas assist inside the six-yard area.
With progression to the 5th round secured, credit goes to Pellegrini for his tactical nous, to Aguero who, even on an off, day bagged a hat-trick and to the diminutive Navas for his indefatigable efforts against a physical Watford side.
Manchester City warrant a 10/10 for sensible pricing that produced a bumper 46,514 attendance and it’s 1/10 for a fiend called Friend who masqueraded as a match day official.
In keeping with many of his colleagues, Kevin Friend is abject in carrying out his duties.
The coup de grace of a dreadful display was when the idiot referee had the temerity to admonish Aguero after the City striker was blatantly body-checked. Not only did Friend not award the free kick when Aguero was laid out, he literally wagged his finger in Sergio’s face as if the Argentine had faked the foul.
Unforgivable behaviour from a complete incompetent.
Pellegrini is the polar opposite and when the chips were stacked against him City’s Squadron leader still downed the flight of the bumble bee…ok, hornets, if we’re being pedantic!
By David Walker