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City don’t want trouble – they’ll settle for just a double

Two headlines – 13 months apart – crystallise the hideous hypocrisy and blatantly biased agenda constantly directed against Manchester City.

Rewind to March 3rd 2021 and, ‘Manchester City might win the quadruple – and this is not good for English football’ – it’s not exactly catchy and certainly not balanced.

Fast forward to April 29th 2022 and feast your eyes on, ‘Neutrals should be cheering on Liverpool’s quadruple hunt – they are one of the greatest teams ever’ – certainly not catchy and not exactly balanced.

I won’t name check the lobotomised individual masquerading as a journalist – why give the imbecile any extra oxygen – but suffice to say it’s typical of the gut churning garbage being trotted out by the half brained lovers of Liverpool (lyrics not quite in tune with little Jimmy Osmond’s horrific, Long Haired Lover from Liverpool, number one hit in December 1972).

Before regularly crashing out of FA Cup semi finals, any talk of City achieving a quadruple was purely to set us up before a fall. Having routinely won the League Cup in late February/early March, it was always on the radar.

As City finally relinquished their hold on that particular trophy after five years and the Scousers snaffled it up, suddenly it was Liverpool’s turn. The only difference being, well, everything – tone, sentiment, content and the overriding wish for it to come true.

The fact I’m writing about this shouldn’t be misconstrued as being overly bothered by the nauseous numbnuts who trot out such tripe. It’s an observational fact, seeking to shed a perspective on City, who are seven games away from what would be dumbed down as a paltry ‘double’.

The scale of City’s ambition is reflected in their April fixtures and the perceived wisdom that a 3-2 FA Cup semi final loss to Liverpool, is the lesser of the evils. If they had to lose any game, that was the most 'palatable'. Premier and Champions League titles are Pep’s priorities.

City could have already booked their place to Paris, courtesy of a resounding win over Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League semi final. It’s no exaggeration to say they should have been four goals up, before Karim Benzema guided his shot past Ederson to reduce the lead to 2-1.

City’s eventual 4-3 victory was a modern day classic, a spellbinding delight for any neutral and yet, as ridiculous as it sounds, it left the majority of City’s supporters disappointed, rueing missed opportunities.

A chorus of, ‘It should’ve been 10’, might have been pushing it, but six, maybe even eight City goals, would’ve been hard to argue against. As it is, it’s ‘game on’ in the Battle of the Bernabeu next Wednesday night, but the Spanish capital should hold no fears for Pep’s troops, after the veritable war zone in the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium a fortnight ago.

The composure, concentration, character, class and collective courage City displayed for well over 100 minutes against the thugs of Atletico, will serve them well as they go for a fourth win on the bounce over Real.

Paradoxically, Diego Simeone’s rabid rabble were key to Real staying in the contest. Had it not been for an injury to Kyle Walker and a yellow card, harshly meted out to Joao Cancello in the 0-0 quarter final, Guardiola’s first choice full backs would’ve been available to form a much tighter City rear guard.

Gambling on John Stones’ fitness as a makeshift right back, backfired as the stellar centre back was incapacitated in the pre-amble to Benzema’s first goal.

His 36th minute departure meant even more defensive disruption with Fernandinho (let’s hope he’s celebrating his 37th birthday on Wednesday with an aggregate win) coming on and going one-on-one with Vinicius Junior – 16 years Dinho’s junior and one of world football’s speed merchants.

It’s not apportioning any blame to the club’s veteran skipper and inspirational dressing room leader, but it does highlight the profound influence Walker has on City’s play. His lightning quick pace and physicality is virtually irreplaceable, and yet City still edged Real Madrid and fought – warrior like – to hold off a late Atletico assault and battery in Spain.

Despite Pep’s positive and defiant words about Walker’s possibly prolonged absence, it does weaken the team. Both he and fellow Yorkshire man, Stones, will be absent when City enter the feral surroundings of Elland Road this evening, in search of three priceless points.

Having dispatched Marco Bielsa’s hapless Leeds United 7-0 in the reverse fixture, it will be a much more structured and resilient opponent under new boss, Jesse Marsch. Yes, City did give his RB Leipzig side a 6-3 Champions League pasting last September, but it promises to be an altogether closer affair.

You only need to cast your mind back a week, to City’s youngsters clinching the Premier League Two title with a 3-1 win at Leeds, to know what awaits. A record crowd in excess of 21,300 made the EDS lads decidedly unwelcome, but still the Blues came through. A re-run with the senior team will do just fine. After all, what can be worse than the antics deployed by Atletico, both on and off the field?

It was alleged – and obviously not confirmed or commented upon by City – that Jack Grealish wasn’t involved away at Atletico (apart from quite rightly and correctly calling Stefan Savic a c*nt) because Messrs Savic, Felipe, Vrsalijko et al were out to ‘do him’ in the second leg.

‘Peaky Jack’ had played a blinder, during his ten minute cameo appearance in the 1-0 win at the Etihad, wickedly winding up Simeone’s Neanderthals.

City kept their cool in the face of some of the worst provocation and lamentable refereeing ever witnessed. It wasn’t nice and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it means trips to the likes of Leeds and Real Madrid, are nothing in comparison.

Whereas City have, thus far, come out on top in tussles with the two Spanish giants, things haven’t gone to plan with gurning Jurgen’s quadruple chasing media darlings.

Having been by far the better side at the Etihad, City had to settle for a share of a 2-2 draw, with Raheem Sterling’s ‘goal’ disallowed, courtesy of VAR and the width of a gnat’s chuff.

A depleted, bruised and battered City were always going to be Wembley underdogs after the Atletico affair. Liverpool had enjoyed the luxury of resting seven first choice players during their 3-3 Champions League draw with Benfica.

It would be churlish to suggest City were unlucky when losing their fourth out of five FA Cup semi finals under Guardiola. They’d produced an utterly abysmal first half showing, shipping three goals amidst a calamitous collective no show. That said, second half goals from Grealish and Bernardo had Liverpool on the ropes and mightily relieved at the final whistle.

Customary wins and goals galore against Brighton and Watford see City still a point clear at the summit of the Premier League, but with little or no margin for error.

With five league matches and potentially two Champions League games to go, a full strength City would be odds on to crown their greatest ever season.

Sadly that isn’t the case, but to Guardiola’s eternal credit he never seeks excuses.

He doesn’t moan about injuries, the length of the grass, the width of the goal lines, the snow, the wind or the wrong kind of rain. He doesn’t whinge about fixture congestion nor report bizarre multiple, unsubstantiated positive Covid tests to have games postponed.

He conducts himself with dignity and decorum, seeking solutions and strategies as, what he refers to as, ‘Cup Finals’ come along every three days. He has faith in his squad players – the likes of Zinchenko, Ake, Fernandinho and even the Academy kids – a firm belief they have the ability and mentality to cope.

Bernardo – one of the standout players of the season – encapsulated the mood when he said: “I like this pressure – look, it’s better to be here than to be fighting against relegation or for fourth place or the Europa League.”

Of course Bernardo is right. Long gone are the days when the height of City's ambition was 40 points and maybe the odd win over United, but as the media constantly complain, you can’t have ‘moneybags and oil c*nts’ ruining football with quadruples. No that would never do.

City aren't bothered about quadruples, they don't need the grief, they'll happily settle for a double and a redefining of Sky Blue Heaven.

Dedicated to the memory of a man who I never had the privilege of meeting, Jimmy Riley, a staunch Manchester City supporter over many decades, and Dad to one of the nicest and most dedicated of Blues, Sean. If we’re talking about the proverbial ‘chip off the old block’, the Riley family specialise in chips and blocks of the highest calibre. Empathy, sympathy and deepest condolences to Sean, his family and friends, and here’s hoping there’s a Sky Blue Heaven beyond the football served up by Pep Guardiola’s team.

By David Walker @djwskyblu

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