‘WE FIGHT ‘TILL THE END, WE FIGHT ’TILL THE END, WE’RE MAN CITY, WE FIGHT ‘TILL THE END’.
It’s an impassioned and cherished battle cry from the terraces born from 93.20 minutes on May 13th 2012. It’s sung with gusto and pride but it seems to be falling on deaf ears far too often recently.
A total contradiction in terms in Moscow in midweek and, if you flip the chant onto its B-Side, it wouldn’t go amiss if Manchester City’s finest could find it within themselves to FIGHT FROM THE START!
You learn more in adversity than in victory is a truism in life, and now is as good a time as any for Manuel Pellegrini and his team to conduct some serious self-analysis.
City froze for 49 minutes of painful second half ineptitude in Russia, costing themselves two crucial Champions League points. Yes, the Hungarian ref was a tw*t (choose your own vowel and insert) but City should have been three or four goals clear before the penalty that never was, was given.
As Champions of England, blessed with winners and talented players, you redeem yourselves at the first opportunity…you don’t wait for an hour of a vital Premier League clash to implement the tactical changes that a visually impaired bat, who shudda gone to Specsavers, could spot a mile off.
It doesn’t matter that Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure were unlucky with shots that crashed off the bar, it doesn’t matter that David ‘Merlin’ Silva scored a prime contender for Goal of the Season and, on balance, it doesn’t matter that West Ham’s first goal was offside.
What matters is why a curious, stupefying and irritating malaise has taken hold of Manchester City for well over 100 minutes in the space of less than five days?
Having supported City for nearly five decades (yes I know I look older but I had a very challenging paper round as a child) I am not one those ‘fans’ who thinks my club has a God given right to win every game.
Just because City have the incredible good fortune to have Sheikh Mansour as owner and are stinking, beautifully rich, it’s no guarantee of success every week or indeed, every season.
The hundreds of millions of pounds that have transformed City into winners and contenders is always – always – used to batter City about the head, to heap pressure on the club and to ridicule when things don’t go to plan.
And so it was after CSKA Moscow and will be after West Ham.
I’m the first to cry foul, castigate referees, berate pundits and rail against the cancerous media who just love to hate Manchester City.
It pains and sickens me in equal measure when City lose, not just the defeat or under performance in itself, but because it gives ammunition to those who seek to damage Manchester City FC.
As a club and as a fan base we must rise above the bile and venom that pours forth, whenever Manuel Pellegrini, Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Co come up short.
In circumstances such as the 2-1 defeat to a fired up West Ham we have to be magnanimous and accept we didn’t deserve to win, probably deserved to draw but ultimately lost, fair and square.
Of course when you analyse the teams, the players, the transfer fees, the wages blah blah blah it’s a no brainer – City should win nine times out of 10.
For the giddy Hammers it was a case of ‘Come in Number 10’ having failed to beat City in the previous 10 encounters.
City had 70% possession, 21 shots to West Ham’s 12, 8 corners to West Ham’s 4 – the sort of statistics we’ve seen every year for the past four years when City go to Sunderland and lose.
The difference at Upton Park was that West Ham were sharper, more incisive and, as clichés go, hungrier for the win.
1-0 up at half time after Amalfitano capitalised on mayhem in City’s backline, West Ham were good value for their lead.
Sakho and Valencia were wreaking havoc as Zabaleta, Kompany, Mangala and Clichy wobbled time and time again. Fernando, the acclaimed defensive midfielder born to tackle and shield his back four just wasn’t doing it.
He was failing in the same way Fernandinho often fails in his defensive duties and in a way that often has you wondering how Yaya was ever a designated defensive midfielder, prior to his transformation under Roberto Mancini.
We have to move forward, but for all the millions spent on Javi Garcia, ‘Dino’ and Fernando, has any of them outperformed Nigel De Jong in a City shirt or even Gareth Barry?
There are few who are bigger advocates of Manuel Pellegrini than this blog and I’m still sticking with #TrustOurMP but – and it’s a sizable but – his almost obsessive adherence to a 4-4-2 formation is fast turning City into a one trick pony.
The transformation when Dzeko was replaced by Jovetic on the hour, was not so much the change of personnel, but the switch to a 4-5-1 with Silva moved from the left to the centre.
Whoever heard of a conductor leading his orchestra from the left side of the stage? City were now in the ascendancy and the gung-ho Hammers were pinned back and limited to counter attacks.
It’s not as if we don’t have the players to make 4-5-1 work with Aguero or Dzeko as the lone striker, supported by the likes of Yaya, Silva, Milner, Nasri, Jovetic, Lampard, Navas (choose four from seven) with an additional defensive midfielder, presumably Fernando over Fernandinho.
With City pressing for the equaliser, the Hammers effectively nailed the win when the troublesome Sakho’s header, despite a nigh on miraculous save by Hart, was clearly in, as evidenced by the goal line technology.
Two minutes later, Silva glided past four West Ham defenders before smashing a superb shot beyond Adrian in the Hammer’s goal.
Pellegrini rang the changes with Milner on for Fernando and Kolarov drafted in for Clichy. By now City were indeed fighting ‘till the end and Jovetic and AK47 both went close with blistering drives.
Aside from the tactics, the constant rotating of the back four cannot breed consistency and continuity. Players often say the defence, more than any other area, benefits from familiarity.
Could it be that Pellegrini should go with a preferred defensive unit to stem the flow of goals City are shipping? Full backs and centre back pairings change almost game by game. Should that cease, at least for the time being?
There’s no glossing over the fact, this was a bad day for City and with Chelsea going to The Swamp, it could see the champions trailing the pretenders to their crown by eight points.
When was the last time a team bridged such a gap to win the Premier League …hang on a minute, we know the answer to that one don’t we?
We could also do with an explanation as to why City are being at best enigmatic or alternatively, erratic in the last couple of outings.
All is not yet lost – not by a long way – but a repeat of the pathetic showing when City were last defending champions would erode the trust invested in Pellegrini.
Time to make City’s actions speak as loud as the words of the song.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu