If somebody said Manchester City had every chance of topping the Premier League – at least seven points clear of Chelsea – going into the second international break of the season, who in sky blue, wouldn’t have taken it?
By the same token, how many City fans would have turned down the prospect of a historic Champions League win on German soil and being well poised in a very challenging Group D?
And yet, with less than a quarter of the domestic league programme played and only a third of the Group D schedule completed, many ‘pundits’ would have us believe that City have swung from perfection to crisis and back to somewhere in between.
At a time when City were smashing club records like crockery at a pre-recession Greek wedding, there was foolish and hugely premature talk of Manuel Pellegrini’s side having the title wrapped up by Christmas.
A 100% record was never going to last and, sure enough perfect turned to defects, as West Ham somehow survived a ferocious and unrelenting second half barrage to steal a win at the Etihad.
The shock defeat came at a cost as City’s already unhealthy looking injury list lengthened with the loss of centre back stalwarts Kompany and Mangala, neither of whom has since played.
Blaming injuries – especially when you’re a club as rich in football talent as City – may sound lilly-livered, but with the season less than two months old, the Etihad medical suite has seen plenty of action.
Pablo Zabaleta made his first fleeting appearance of the season as a late late sub, in the heart-stopping 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach on Wednesday night. That’s more than Gael Clichy has managed since pre-season.
Fabian Delph has mustered two sub showings before crashing out with a troublesome hamstring, 30 seconds into England international duty last month.
Wilfried Bony picks up injuries at the same rate Mario Balotelli collected parking tickets during his stay in Manchester, while the young pretender to a City striking berth, Kelechi Iheanacho has also fallen foul to physical frailty.
David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Yaya Toure have all missed valuable game time, and arguably returned to first team action far from fully fit.
Samir Nasri has been in and out of action due to niggling and recurring injuries and Fernando, after proclaiming he was finally free of a pain during the summer, promptly picked up a new war wound in pre-season.
Even the normally resolute Joe Hart succumbed to injury before the trip to Tottenham, and what a miss he turned out to be, with Willy Caballero sadly performing like a derivation of his forename.
No, never mind the millions upon millions of investment, Pellegrini has a case if he wanted to put the catalogue of casualties forward as mitigation for City’s temporary slip from grace.
But the Carry On Casualty capers has helped facilitate first team debuts for some City youngsters, noticeably Iheanacho, Patrick Roberts and most warmingly, George Evans.
Evans’ Capital Cup debut in the 4-1 victory at Sunderland, marked him out as one of only two players to have represented City at every level, from the Under 8s to the senior side.
Pablo Maffeo and Brandon Barker have made it to the senior matchday squads and the youngsters are ready and willing to start fulfilling their potential.
The addition of a brilliant Kevin de Bruyne has been a lone shining beacon as City have stumbled in recent league games.
Bungling officials have also cost City dear in what has been a topsy-turvy two weeks.
As bad as City’s second half capitulation was at White Hart Lane, referee Mark Clattenburg and his apology of an assistant, allowed Spurs two blatant – not marginal – offside goals, which undoubtedly dictated the momentum and course of the game.
Even in Champions League glory, when recording the first ever win by an English team at Moenchengladbach, City had to contend with a ‘goal line assistant’ who clearly ‘shudda gone to Specsavers’ but couldn’t find his way.
Standing five yards parallel to the goal, the official contrived not to see Martin Demichelis’ 65th minute equaliser cross the line. It was only when Nicolas Otamendi immediately rifled home the clearance that ‘Glow In the Dark’ City illuminated the scoreboard.
True to form and rotten to the core, UEFA subsequently swung into face-saving and arse-covering mode.
European football’s governing body retrospectively awarded the goal to Demichelis, claiming the visually impaired 5th official had told referee, Clement ‘Dick’ Turpin, the ball had crossed the line at the time.
One look at the playback tells you there was no signal whatsoever from the official and, had Otamendi not buried his version of the equaliser, City would have remained 1-0 down.
What should we expect from an organisation whose President, Michel Platini, conducts consultancy work on behalf of FIFA and the now not so Teflon Sepp Blatter, and then has the patience of a saint to wait nine years for his £1.3m invoice to clear?
Neither of Borussia’s penalty claims were justified – despite the best endeavours of BT Sports’ impartial pundit Robbie Savage and protestations of ex-City midfielder, all-round waste of space and expert finger pointer, Steve McManaman.
What wasn’t in question was another world class Champions League display from Joe Hart – including a magnificent penalty save – and an ice cool 90th minute spot kick execution from Sergio Aguero.
Hart was sorely missed in the crushing 4-1 reverse at Spurs, whereas Aguero was as anonymous as any City player in a wretched second half offering in North London.
‘Out-of-form’ and ‘Sergio Aguero’ is a rare juxtaposition, but even the best of the best have dips in form.
Sergio is suffering at the moment with just one goal scored in open play all season, but it’s only a matter of time before he sets out on a spree to try and retain his Golden Boot status.
City now embark on an October that barely sees them step outside of Manchester, with five home games and a trip to The Swamp in Trafford.
Complacency and recent history needs to be a million miles away from City’s thought processes as Steve McClaren’s Newcastle United come to the Etihad.
Despite a record of 15 wins and 2 draws in their last 17 league encounters, City could come undone – as they did against West Ham – if they allow the visitors time and space.
A work ethic, high tempo and pressing play so evident in the unbeaten run, was absent in the first 45 minutes against the Hammers and the second 45 minutes against Spurs.
There can be no excuse for a lack of effort and application by those in Sky Blue.
Six points squandered must not become nine. Now is the time to secure the buffer zone between a floundering Chelsea and edge ahead of unlikely title challengers Manure.
The international breaks, loathed by so many fans of the Premier League, could be a blessing as City’s injured and walking wounded gain a fortnight respite.
It will only rest well if City get back to winning ways and murder some Magpies.
By David Walker
Dedicated to a devoted Lady Blue, Angie Hillwood, who is grieving the loss of Max – a much loved and very special friend – stay strong and keep the dream in your heart x
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu