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City crack on with triple pursuit

It was Easter Sunday. It was the much vaunted and highly anticipated big match.

 

Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta was the difference between the two teams as Manchester City’s title hopes had – in the words of the BBC – ‘…surely disappeared…the body language of City’s players at the final whistle hinted at a sense of resignation to their fate!’



Haaland was fouled and frustrated by the less than angelic Gabriel.

 

With just six games remaining City were eight points off the top of the Premier League.

 


Arteta is hugely disliked by City fans.

It was April 8th, 2012 and the Spanish midfielder’s 87th minute wonder strike had seemingly crushed the title hopes of Roberto Mancini’s team. A petulant Mario Balotelli was the fall guy – maybe with some justification – after two needless and senseless bookings.

 


Balotelli was sent off but City still won the title in 2012.

Half-a-dozen matches – and a Sergio Aguero goal at 93 minutes and 20 seconds – later, the body language of the men in sky blue was a tad different.

 

Fast forward to 2024 and some City players slumped to the turf at the final whistle – born of frustration – as Arteta’s bus parking crew ground out an attritional  0-0 draw at the Etihad.

 


Arteta's Arsenal parked the bus at the Etihad.

City’s goalscoring phenomenon Erling Haaland, had fluffed a late chance to break the deadlock and take all three points. It emboldened so-called football 'pundits' to label him as nothing more than a ‘Second Division player.’

 

This would be the same player who scored 52 goals in 53 games in his debut season in English football. The same player who has thus far, plundered 29 goals in 32 games – despite being out injured for two months. The same player who tops the goal scoring chart in pursuit of the Golden Boot he won so handsomely, with a record 36 Premier League goals, in 2022/23.

 


Erling Hell-land after missing a late chance.

At just 23-years old, City’s Nordic Meat Shield would readily acknowledge there's plenty of room for improvement in his game. His first touch isn't the best, neither is his ability to hold up the ball and bring his teammates into play. He has much to learn.


But a bit of context and perspective wouldn't go amiss.


Haaland is a living, breathing, walking, talking goal machine. He is the master of the most fundamental element of the game. He puts the ball in the back of the opposition's net. His mere presence and the threat he carries keeps opposing defenders occupied. He creates space for his teammates to exploit. The lack of appreciation of what he does off the ball is often quite staggering, bordering on ignorance.



Because he's worth it!

 

The fact his principal 'assistant', Kevin De Bruyne, has missed half of the season cannot be overstated. In the same manner, City’s chances of a historic fourth consecutive Premier League title should not be underestimated.

 


King Kevin's absence for half a season cannot be overstated.

City were five points behind table toppers, Arsenal after 29 games last season. With nine games to go Pep’s team are just three points adrift of Liverpool and one behind Arsenal.

 

The naysayers – even some City supporters among them – would have it that City aren’t up to it, after the treble-winning heroics of last year.


Manu Akanji has been in excellent form.

The lengthy absences of key players KDB, Haaland, John Stones and Jack Grealish have undoubtedly been detrimental. City’s indecision in not offering a suitably timely and attractive contract to Ilkay Gundogan last summer, is looking more and more regrettable. So too the delay in offloading Kalvin Phillips and signing a support act to lessen Rodri’s workload.

 


Double trouble as Stones and Walker are injured.

But, as Pep Guardiola is so often quoted, ‘It is what it is.’

 

A more comforting and oft used phrase by City’s Catalan genius is, ‘In the big moments – we are there!’ And who could argue with him?

 


Welcome back Super Jack.

With 27 points up for grabs City could overhaul Liverpool and Arsenal. A mouth-watering Champions League quarter final with Real Madrid is on the way, followed by another trip to the Etihad South to play Chelsea, in a record-breaking sixth consecutive FA Cup semi final.

 

Meanwhile at the ‘Etihad North’ you have to go all the way back to November 12th, 2022 – the last match before the Qatar World Cup – to find City’s last home loss. It’s an incredible 36-game unbeaten run and one that must be maintained against Aston Villa.

 


Pep tried in vain to point the way to an Easter Sunday win.

It was against Unai Emery’s Champions League-focused Villa that City last lost a game in any competition. An utterly abysmal showing could have seen a much heavier beating than the 1-0 inflicted.

 

City set off on a 23-game unbeaten and ongoing run after that truly horrible night at Villa Park, and yet there’s a paradoxical and underwhelming feeling associated with many of the performances.

 


Will Stones and Walker be back to win silverware for City in 2024?

With injuries piling up ahead of a packed April schedule, the maxim of attack being the best form of defence could, and should, best serve City.

 

Perversely, Arteta’s Gunners mustered next to nothing against a backline shorn of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ederson and, for the most part, Nathan Ake.



City fans will hope gormless Gareth is United manager this summer.

 

It might be churlish to cast aspersions on the recent and meaningless international ‘friendlies’, but England manager Gareth Southgate certainly hasn’t helped matters.

 

Steeped in the knowledge of John Stones’ fragility and the fact Guardiola carefully manages his game time, gormless Gareth selected him to start against Brazil and Belgium, within the space of four days. Just 10 minutes into the match against Belgium and Stones incurred an abductor muscle injury – quelle surprise!

 


Ake came close to giving City an early lead.

In his after-match press conference, Southgate said how he hated sending players back injured to their clubs. He cited the Netherlands use of Ake in consecutive games, as if to defend his ill-judged deployment of Stones.


Ake, playing his third game in quick succession on Sunday, pulled up with what appeared to be a calf injury in the 27th minute – go figure!

 


A Stones injury on international duty is almost mandatory!

The sooner Southgate gets the gig at The Swamp and succeeds Erik ten Bob, the better.

 

Guardiola is renowned for his preference for working with a comparatively small squad of players. In Pep’s eyes, if players aren’t getting regular game time, they are more likely to be a vice than a virtue.

 


Ake limped off to be replaced by Rico Lewis.

The downside is when injuries and suspensions bite, the squad isn’t as deep as it could be to cover the gaps. The counter argument is Pep’s quality to teach his players to be more adaptable and able to perform out of their natural position.

 


Gladiator Gvardiol was excellent as an overlapping left back.

Sunday’s stalemate was disappointing, but the performances of Gvardiol and Akanji, plus Stones’ presence on the bench, were cause for encouragement. The midfield duel between Rodri and Declan Rice served to show the huge chasm in class.


Rodri was superior to Rice as City were to Arsenal, but it wasn't reflected in the scoreline.

Arsenal paid £105m for Rice. You'd have to rearrange the digits to get closer to the value and worth of Rodders. Let's start the bidding at £150m.

 

From a supporter perspective, it’s debatable as to whether City’s cup is half full or half empty, but how can an unbeaten run going back four months be anything other than a positive?

 


City's striking viking could yet hit the 40 goal mark this season.

Motivation was always going to be a factor after the incredible highs of last season, but it could be fatigue that eventually catches up with the World, European and English Champions.

 

Fitness, effective squad rotation and the mental wherewithal of previous campaigns, will be key factors as City undertake a challenging schedule of up to 10 fixtures this month.



It's in City's DNA to Fight 'til the end!

 

The ‘Fight Til The End’ DNA – which has coursed through City’s veins since that spectacular ‘Aguerooo Moment’ – will be critical as Pep’s team strive to resurrect hopes of a historic ‘Double Treble’.

 

 

By David Walker

 

 

Twitter @ReadButNeverRed

@djwskyblu

 

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13 Comments


Anything your boys can achieve this season will be a massive achievement for a team riddled with such a lengthy injury list. The problem for the club is that the bar has recently been set so very high that anything short could, in many eyes, be seen as a failure.

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tracie465
tracie465
Apr 04

Thanks for another great read Mr..... this is how we do it!💙

Keep the faith and keep on keeping on 💙Let's go boys!

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Replying to

Thanks TJ - let’s hope for another 15 performances like last night’s 🩵🏆🩵🏆🩵🏆

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Great perspective David, almost a quarter of a season to go and lots of 'previous' from City to triumph in the end. Wholeheartedly agree though that Gundo (and Mahrez) are a big miss and hope the walking wounded & 'us against the World ' mentality are enough to see us through to silverware!

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Cheers Sean - it’s a huge ask to think City can keep the success and performance levels year in year out, but while we have Pep you’d like to think it was possible.

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There are plenty games to go and we know how teams get the jitters on the run in, plenty to play for with plenty of experience of how to manage the remaining games. It will be tight but we will fight till the end. Great piece David loved it.

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Thanks - let’s hope City do what City do best at this time of the season!

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Well said! 🙏🏼

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Replying to

Thank you.

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