For some it spells magic, for others, unexpected misery.
FA Cup upsets are fuelled by the over achievement, hunger and desire of the underdog, aided and abetted by the sub-standard performance, arrogance and complacency of the favourites.
Whatever the factors Manchester City and, to an even greater degree, Chelsea, were given a sickening double dose of ‘it’, as Middlesbrough and Bradford City embarrassed and humiliated the Premier League’s front-runners in the oldest football competition in the world.
In what has been dubbed the craziest ever round in the history of the Cup, both Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho saw their expensively assembled sides capitulate in the most unpalatable of ways.
With both teams still contesting the Champions League and Chelsea on the brink of the League Cup Final, it isn’t quite the old mantra of ‘now we can concentrate on the league…’ which used to accompany an early FA Cup exit.
But concentration on the Premier League will never have been higher on each manager’s agenda than it will be this coming week – more so for Manuel than Jose.
In City’s present vein of form it looks as if they’ll have to score three at Stamford Bridge to stand any chance of winning – it’s almost mandatory at the moment, that they have to concede two to their opponents each and every game!
It’s oft said that you learn more about your team in defeat than in victory. If that’s the case then Pellegrini must have been on an almighty learning curve in the past eight days.
Faltering form caused by injuries, fatigue and players absent on international duty, has resulted in consecutive 2-0 home defeats to Arsenal and now Boro. It means City’s season is virtually on the line on Saturday evening in West London.
If it sounds defeatist to state that City are not going to win the Champions League this season, then so be it.
Pragmatism screams out that a team who continue to look increasingly toothless in attack and vulnerable at the back, are not going to beat Europe’s finest in Berlin on June 6th.
A win at Chelsea, narrowing the points deficit to just two, plus the imminent returns of Samir Nasri, back from injury and Ivory Coast duo Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony from the African Cup Of Nations, will soon have the confidence levels rising inexorably.
Of more pressing concern is improving the form and fitness of Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko.
City’s skipper has looked a shadow of his usual self since his long injury lay-off. The rock like Belgian Boulder has struggled in both the 2-0 reversals and City need their leader back to his commanding best.
A 14-game unbeaten streak, whilst highly praiseworthy, had papered over the cracks and patchy form of the team, as Pellegrini juggled with injuries to key personnel.
Winning, when playing below par, is supposed to be the sign of champions, the hors d’oeuvre before a team really gets cracking and rampages through to the main course of title success.
Delusional or wishful thinking, City fans have to cling to the belief that’s where Manuel’s men are heading.
For that to happen, it will require a massively enhanced return on investment on players acquired during Pellegrini’s reign, and that of Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain.
The patently unfair and punitive constraints imposed on City by UEFA’s laughable Financial Fair Play rules, have been a major impediment in recent seasons.
Notwithstanding the antics of Napoleon Platini and his corrupt cronies, Pellegrini delivered City’s most successful single season, with the Premier League and League Cup victories in 2013/14.
Against that backdrop and the risk of contradictory evidence, City’s acumen and sustainability in the transfer market is looking increasingly suspect.
Not including new boy Bony at an initial £25m, City have still managed to spend over £150m since the summer of 2013.
Of half-a-dozen major purchases, how many of Fernandinho, Fernando, Navas, Jovetic, Mangala and the now departed Negredo would feature in a first XI at Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona or even Chelsea?
Answer – none!
Conversely the argument is that City ARE the Premier League Champions, and could go on to retain the title for the first time in the club’s history.
Recent signings however, don’t appear to take Sheikh Mansour any closer to his Holy Grail of achieving Champions League success.
Martin Demichelis at £4.5m and Frank Lampard on a free represent good value, but City haven’t bought a marque player since Sergio Aguero arrived from Atletico Madrid for £38m in the summer of 2011.
Rumours abound that situation will be addressed and rectified this summer, once City are finally free from the shackles of FFP, thanks to the club’s stunning off the field commercial successes.
City have risen to 6th place in the ‘Money League’ – the barometer of world football’s biggest revenue earners, irrespective of the wealth of club owners – ahead of Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.
The sponsorship, advertising and endorsement deals show no sign of slowing down, keeping the money flowing in and the prospect of eye-catching signings more than a distinct probability.
Expect wholesale changes in personnel this summer, signings that should take City to the proverbial next level, necessitating the moving on of household names – players who have been instrumental in recent title wins.
For all the speculation surrounding the possible signings of Marcos Reus from Dortmund, Sami Khedira of Real Madrid, Paul Pogba from Juventus, and lingering longings to try and lure Lionel Messi from Barcelona, City also have to address the issue of ‘homegrown’ quotas.
Super Frankie will finally be heading off to New York City, James Milner looks as if he’ll be leaving on a Bosman in the summer – if not before, for a fee this month – and Scott Sinclair is a totally peripheral figure.
If City are to buy English talent are they prepared to pay the over-inflated rates demanded by their Premier League counterparts? If so, do they try and buy the best or ‘make do’ with squad players?
The world and his wife seems to believe that Everton’s Ross Barkley is heading up the East Lancs Road to the Etihad. It remains to be seen. City are also regularly linked with Jay Rodriquez, Southampton’s presently injury-stricken striker.
Who knows, would City fancy pushing the boat out for Raheem Sterling who, despite having two years on his Liverpool contract, has yet to sign a new long term deal?
It’s all conjecture, but for the time being City are suffering a dip in form when they can least afford it, with Chelsea up next.
The ignominious defeat to Boro – despite two bona fide penalty appeals being dismissed by the idiot ref Phil Dowd – demonstrated that City’s much vaunted strength in depth is something of a myth.
Although 0-0 at half time, City had shown enough attacking prowess to suggest the goals would come and they would progress to the 5th Round.
Defensive howlers and an irritating habit of wanting to walk the ball into the net, combined to bring about City’s second half downfall.
Once again City were reduced to looking clueless and lethargic, but that isn’t to deny due credit to an enterprising and clinical Boro.
Opinions are polarized among the City support.
The old hands – the stalwarts of Lincoln City, Wycombe and York away fixtures in the last millennium – seem impervious to the shortcomings of the modern day, remaining sanguine when contrasting rare defeats with the unbridled masochism of yesteryear.
At the other end of the spectrum are the ‘newbies’, those attracted by City’s rise in recent years and who are accustomed to winning – not quite the hardy perennials who suffered through many a winter of Mancunian apathy and discontent.
Ultimately it boils down to keeping a healthy perspective, avoiding knee-jerk reactions but still retaining the ‘right’ to justifiably criticise expensive, very well paid signings, who are failing to deliver the goods.
As ever social media fans the flames and stokes the fires of debate, banter and sometimes, unfortunately, abuse.
It’s not a witch hunt, character assassination or harbouring feelings of a divine right to win every game, to express disappointment or discontent at the team, the manager or individual players.
Manuel Pellegrini has done and is continuing to do a pretty good job, sometimes in difficult circumstances. Some of his players have not – as yet – lived up to their billing namely Fernando, Mangala and Jovetic – they should all be doing better.
Fernandinho runs hot and cold, Navas works hard and has improved, but for a winger, seems incapable of beating ‘his man’.
Even the ‘untouchables’ of Kompany and Zabaleta have struggled at times this season, Yaya has yet to hit the heady heights of 2013/14 and the media are once again ramping up the volume on the giant Ivorian’s desire to leave the Etihad.
Losing to Arsenal and Boro, the prospect of losing to Chelsea and falling eight points behind for a second time this season, means these are not the best of times for Manchester City.
But neither is it time for running up a white flag. Champions are champions for good reasons and City need to display such qualities in the face of adversity. They’ve done it before and need to do it again.
Chelsea are not exactly in rude health themselves and Mourinho was, to his credit, uncharacteristically honest and magnanimous in the wake of the shock defeat to Bradford.
Let’s hope it’s a habit-forming and he will be expressing similar sentiments when City attempt to haul themselves back into Premier League contention next weekend.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu