It’s easy to be ‘PC’ and support your ‘MP’ when he’s riding the crest of a wave, but it takes a little more than political correctness to swim against a tide of perceived failure and maintain faith in stormy seas.
As a vortex of negativity threatens to drag Manuel Pellegrini under, drowning his managerial reign and washing away Manchester City’s hopes of major honours, those demanding his head would do well to tread water.
A different ‘PC’ – in the guise of perspective and calm – is required to see if the man who delivered the Premier League title just 11 games ago can steady City’s, admittedly, rocking boat.
In the wake of a steady flow of poor recent results, there are plenty of City ‘fans’ ready to throw Manuel overboard – would they be the same ‘fans’ who were singing about Sheikh Mansour, a Lamborghini and Pellegrini on May 11th?
A thrilling see-saw, splash-down encounter in West London’s driving rain, saw City emerge with a 2-2 draw last night against a rejuvenated Queen’s Park Rangers – a team fighting for Premier League survival.
Sergio Aguero showed why he is simply the best striker in the top flight with a brace of brilliantly taken goals, twice dragging City back on level terms.
Fully fit, he’s now bagged a dozen in 11 games and his finishing was sublime in a nigh on submerged Loftus Road.
At the other end Joe Hart was at his brilliant best – despite an amazing let off – in an enthralling duel with QPR forward Charlie Austin.
The lively Austin was all go as he had the ball in City’s net twice within the space of two minutes, but to no avail.
Clearly offside with a headed ‘goal’, the City keeper subsequently gift-wrapped a poor free kick to the QPR man’s feet and Austin fired the ball past Hart for a second time.
Joe had accidentally double hit the kick as he slipped on the sodden turf and, under Law 13 of FIFA’s rules it meant the ball was not ‘live in play.’ As such Austin’s second ‘goal’ was immediately chalked off.
Incredibly, referee Mike Dean spotted the infringement in an instant from 50 yards up field and was whistling to disallow the goal, almost before it hit the back of the net.
Credit where it’s due, it was a superb observation and application of the rule – a rule that possibly only Mr Dean, his assistants and Joe Hart were quick to highlight.
It was third time lucky for Austin in the 21st minute when, with a hint of offside, he drove a low shot beyond Hart.
Hart defied the ex-Burnley striker with a string of truly world class saves, and it would serve City well to get his signature on a new long term contract, sooner rather than later.
Aguero levelled the score on 32 minutes when his superb first touch controlled a long punt from Mangala, before twisting and turning Caulker and Dunne inside out and smashing the ball past Robert Green.
Like Austin’s goal, there was hint of offside plus an involuntary handball, but it was 1-1.
City had used up all three substitutions by the time Demichelis inadvertently steered a header beyond Hart to give the hosts a 2-1 lead in the 76th in minute.
Dzeko on for Fernandinho limped off with a hamstring injury after only four minutes to be replaced by Super Frankie Lampard – always a ‘favourite’ with the Shepherds Bush faithful, courtesy of his Chelsea links.
Milner came on for a tiring Nasri and was denied the equaliser when Caulker cleared his header off the line.
It was left to Super Sergio to help salvage a point in the 83rd minute when Yaya Toure struck an exquisite 50 yard pass from the centre circle. Aguero peeled away from a trio of QPR defenders in the 18 yard box, bamboozled Green, kept his composure and hammered it home.
City more than deserved a share of the spoils after 23 attempts on goal, numerous near misses and the lion’s share of possession, but the draw was a fair outcome.
The corresponding weekend last year saw City thrown into darkness at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light after a 1-0 defeat, their fourth of the season, left them languishing in 8th place in the table.
City’s record after 11 games read P11 W6 D1 L4 F28 A12 Pts 19. Pellegrini then proceeded to lead his team to 11 wins and a draw in their next dozen league fixtures, before finally losing to Chelsea on February 3rd, nearly three months on.
The fact it was Chelsea who ended the run is ironic, given that they are now eight points ahead of a City side whose record this season reads P11 W6 D3 L2 F22 A12 Pts 21.
Of course it’s far from ideal to be so far adrift of Jose Mourinho’s thus far imperious team, but even Maureen has said he doesn’t envisage his team going undefeated until next May.
There are so many intangibles that lie ahead – injuries, loss of form, freak results – it’s a well worn cliché about football being a ‘funny old game’ – so to ditch Pellegrini now, with 81 points still up for grabs, would be indecently premature.
Yes, City have far too often looked rudderless at the rear and are shipping goals with alarming regularity, but they’ve conceded the same amount as last year after 11 games.
Make no bones about it, the performance levels are of concern – the Moscow misery in particular – but it’s not a time for knee-jerk over reactions.
For once an international break has come at a good time. By the time Swansea come to the Etihad in a fortnight, closely followed by Bayern Munich, it’s to be hoped that David Silva and Vincent Kompany will be fit and raring to go.
It isn’t delusional to say City can still win a third title in four years, albeit there is scant evidence to suggest it thus far.
There again, who gave City a prayer when they won a title from being eight points behind with six games to play in 2012, or a second PL crown from six points behind with just five games to go?
Chelsea were fortunate to leave the Etihad with a point in September, despite City being reduced to 10 men, so make no mistake they can and will be beaten.
As for Pellegrini – The Engineer – he needs to get the football equivalent of WD40 and start spraying it around the place. Far too many of his squad, both new and old are looking rusty and unfit for purpose.
This summer’s star buys Fernando and Mangala seem to think they’re still playing in Portugal’s Primeira Liga, where they can procrastinate and pinch a siesta, sleepwalking into insipid tackles or downright dozy distribution.
Nicknamed ‘The Octopus’ for his alleged ability to reach in and dispossess opponents, Fernando seems to have lost the use of his tentacles! His ball control also leaves much to be desired.
His former Porto team-mate, Eliaquim Mangala, made a dream debut against Chelsea, looking every inch the £32m acquisition, bought to form a long term centre half pairing with Vincent Kompany.
Subsequently, the 23-year old has played an all too prominent part in a City backline which, Demichelis aside, is a French Disconnection!
Notionally, Mangala, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy should be an effective defensive trio, but rather like the infamous Maginot Line – fortifications built by the French in the 1930s to prevent a German invasion – they are all too easily outflanked.
QPR striker Charlie Austin, veteran battering ram centre forward, Bobby Zamora and winger Eduardo Vargas ‘merde-ered’ City’s French triumvirate with consummate ease – embarrassingly so.
City’s title renaissance – if there is to be one – is going to have to start back-to-front, with clean sheets a pre-requisite.
On nine occasions this season City have gone a goal behind and each time failed to win – that tells a story in itself. Is the defence threadbare because the full backs are being told to push up and leaving their flanks exposed?
Is it still a World Cup hangover for the likes of Kompany and Zabaleta – if it is, it isn’t good enough. Forget fatigue – enough of Chelsea’s players went to Brazil 2014 for that to be discounted as a reason.
Social media continues to gibber-jabber about ‘something not being right…’ behind the scenes at City – dressing room discontent, players not happy with an intransigent Pellegrini and his refusal to adopt a more pragmatic approach.
Whatever is or isn’t going on behind the scenes, it still falls to Pellegrini to chart a course through choppy conditions before City’s season goes down the plughole. I wish this charming man all the best in his endeavours.
By David Walker
Dedicated to the men, women and animals of our Armed Services, who gave their lives so that we may live ours free from fear and repression.
Their unimaginable sacrifice leaves us humbled, heavy of heart with a debt we can never repay.
We WILL remember them!
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