With eight wins and one draw from nine games, 29 goals scored and just three conceded, it seems the football Gods decided it was all going a bit too well for Manchester City.
48 hours after motoring to the top of Group F with their first ever 100% start following two opening Champions League games, an errant taxi driver somehow managed to drive Sergio Aguero round the bend and straight into an unforgiving Amsterdam lamppost.
The accident came hot on the heels that Benjamin Mendy had lost his own version of the Battle of Wounded Knee, and would be sidelined for the bulk of the season.
City’s dream start to the 2017/18 campaign had suddenly become an injury nightmare and Christmas appeared to have come early for Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham and anybody else with Premier League winning pretensions.
Fair to say Pep Guardiola’s Blues have been dealt the proverbial kick in the ‘spherical objects’ or, to be more precise, Sergio Aguero’s ribs, Benjamin Mendy’s anterior cruciate ligament and, lest we forget, Vincent Kompany’s calf.
While we all absorb the shocking news about Aguero’s accident, bemoan Benjamin’s bad luck and indulge in conjecture about Kompany’s supposedly ‘minor’ calf injury (the City captain will have missed seven club games since the last international break) we should take solace that all three can still contribute to what promises to be a highly significant season.
With City’s goal scoring record in Sergio’s grasp it’s so easy for us to take things in life for granted.
Read But Never Red produced a graphic stating ‘Only A Matter of Time’ before City faced Crystal Palace but, had he not been wearing a seat belt last night, time could’ve easily run out for Aguero.
Let’s just count our blessings Sergio survived and will recover over the next few weeks.
In the meantime it’s down to Jesus, Sane, Sterling, Silva, Bernardo and De Bruyne to keep City’s goal-fest going.
Sane, Sterling and Jesus have so far scored 16 of City’s impressive goals haul. It wasn’t that long ago that Pep was seemingly toying with the idea of the trio edging ahead of Sergio in the selection stakes.
Pep’s hand has now been forced by Aguero’s absence, so could the triumvirate work to City’s advantage, with their pace, movement and interchanging of play?
Aguero has more than shown Pep that he remains an integral part of City’s present and foreseeable future, but for now there’ll be a renewed emphasis on blistering speed from a front three, with a combined aged of just 63 years.
There’ll be few sterner tests than playing the Premier League Champions away, but backed by the creativity and guile of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva, Guardiola’s young guns should have an ample supply of ammunition.
The return to fitness of Ilkay Gundogan and keeping him that way, will also be pivotal to City’s ambitions and objectives.
On his day the German midfielder can exercise a profound influence on any game. It’s worth remembering that even when injured in the summer of 2016, Gundagon was Guardiola’s primary transfer target.
One player who was a million miles away from top billing in Guardiola’s thoughts was Fabian Delph, another player beset by injuries and one who could so easily have gone to Stoke last month.
A bargain buy from Aston Villa in 2015, Delph has suddenly emerged from the shadows, striking a wonder goal against Palace and then stepping into the breach with a Man of The Match showing against Shakhtar Donetsk in place of the missing Mendy.
It’ll be totally lost on most pundits that Jesus, bought for £27m and Delph at £8m, could prove adequate replacements for Aguero – valued at £80m and Mendy at £50m – in a run of vital games. Sergio could be back before the end of October, but Mendy is out until April. Nonetheless, can you even begin to imagine City being praised for their astute dealings in the transfer market? No, me neither.
If City can maintain their strong domestic title challenge and progress through to the Champions League last 16, without some of their most influential stars, it’ll be a huge validation of Guardiola’s management and the quality of City’s squad.
Of course Kompany’s return sooner rather than later, will be a big boost to a defence so often scrutinised and criticised, but one that has only leaked three goals in nine games.
Whereas it seemed City’s skipper had finally shrugged off his susceptibility to calf injuries, he was once again stricken while on international duty earlier this month.
Quite what happens with the Belgian team must drive Kompany and Pep to near madness, but history just keeps on repeating with Vinny being a casualty while serving his nation’s cause.
If he has any ambitions to win a contract extension at the Etihad, Vinny will surely call time on his international career after next summer’s World Cup Finals?
Perversely in Kompany’s absence, John Stones has improved markedly with better decision making, knowing when to bring the ball out from the back, and equally as important, when to whack it away from danger with no frills attached.
The fact he and Nicolas Otamendi can concentrate more on their central defensive duties and less on covering for ageing full backs, has also contributed to the stinginess of City’s backline.
Kyle Walker, Mendy and the adaptable Danilo have already proved their worth at a time when all the City detractors questioned Pep’s investment in full backs. Conversely, when Mendy is sidelined, you get idiot journalists casting aspersions as to why City didn’t buy more full backs? Damned if they do and damned if they don’t, City can never win over some jaundiced journos.
Equally, the confidence inspired by Ederson as the last line of defence cannot be overstated, with the young Brazilian already showing signs that he will mature into one of the finest keepers in world football.
It’s no coincidence that his performances have echoed the noticeable silence of the ‘Bring back Joe’ Brigade this time out.
As for staying top of the table, if City can rectify the miscarriage of justice perpetrated upon them when Chelsea’s 12 men (11 plus PGMOL’s most famous ‘Altrincham fan’) won 3-1 at the Etihad last December, it will be a significant achievement at this stage of the season.
In referee Martin Atkinson, City arguably have the best of a bad PGMOL bunch officiating – a statement that could come back to haunt me – so at least it might be XI v XI for once. Chelsea pose a real threat and media talk of the title being a two horse race between the Manchester clubs is rightly dismissed by Pep.
The defending champions have only lost once this season – an opening day ‘freak show’ against Burnley – and looked mightily impressive winning away at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
A win or even a draw at Stamford Bridge, especially when missing three key starters, would be a very positive result as we head into another of the odious international breaks.
Mixed in among all City’s champagne football have been two very noticeable ‘battles’ – a physically gruelling encounter at WBA and a technically challenging match-up against Shakhtar – where skill, resilience and self-belief saw them through.
If City are to maintain top spot before their next Premier League action against Stoke on October 14, they may well need all of that and a bit more on Saturday evening.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu