Manuel has to blow away Manchester City's malaise
Manuel Pellegrini’s luxuriant grey locks are probably the only ‘target’ for the hairdryer treatment in Manchester City’s dressing room this season. That has to change – and fast, if City are to win the Premier League for a third time in five years.
The cool Chilean is a dignified figure, the personification of composure, not given to red mist reactions, but something has to give if he is to engineer a solution to the ‘manyana mantra’ that afflicts his underperforming team.
It’s as if some players believe there’s always another tomorrow to get the points needed to win the title – it doesn’t have to be today!
There’s a slogan hung on a wall at the Etihad which reads: ‘HARD WORK BEATS TALENT WHEN TALENT DOESN’T WORK HARD’ it makes you wonder if some of City’s squad received the memo to read and heed the creed.
When you look at some of the lacklustre showings from key players, the losses that should have been draws and the draws that should have been wins, it’s quite astonishing that City are still just three points off top spot.
Arguably, if City had had a commanding Captain Kompany at the back and been able to call upon Sergio Aguero whenever needed, they would already have piled up a comfortable points buffer over the chasing pack.
Pellegrini makes much of the fact that City are the only team in England genuinely chasing silverware on four fronts. Talk of a Quadruple is fanciful folly when you have a defence strategy as coherent – or incoherent (depending on your political persuasions) – as Jeremy Corbyn’s.
Any aspirations for trophies won’t last much longer if the likes of Nicolas Otamendi are so easily distracted ‘fixing’ his hair, allowing West Ham to score one of the easiest goals of the season.
The Argentine centre back – one of La Liga’s finest defenders in his time at Valencia – was also at fault for West Ham’s opener, along with Yaya Toure, offering no resistance as the Hammer’s went one up under a minute from kick-off.
Only a combination of Super Sergio and the equally brilliant Joe Hart, saved City from the ignominy of West Ham achieving a first league ‘double’ over the Sky Blues since the early 60s.
Aguero’s sublime 6th minute attempt hit the post, but 120 seconds later he won a stonewall penalty (shock, horror - City were actually awarded a ‘nailed on’ spot kick) which he duly dispatched.
Sergio’s second equaliser of the day in the 81st minute, was his 90th Premier League goal in 136 appearances – a phenomenal record – bettered only by the all time highest PL scorer, Alan Shearer.
His goal scoring instincts were matched by Joe Hart’s goal saving aptitude at altitude, as England’s Number One served up a strong contender for Save of The Season, with a sensational flying stop from a Dimitri Payet free kick destined for the top corner of the City net.
In the end the 2-2 draw was just about right, in a thrilling City farewell to Upton Park (what’s all this Boleyn Ground nonsense) barring a 5th or 6th Round FA Cup tie.
As goodbyes go, this East London encounter really should be the last time Yaya is called upon for a full 90 minutes.
It’s not making the Ivorian colossus a scapegoat for every poor City performance this season, it’s the simple truth that Toure can no longer keep up with the pace of the PL.
His status as a City great is already cemented in the Club’s history and he can still contribute this season, either as an impact sub or for the first 55-60 minutes of a game.
Pellegrini and Yaya have to figure out what’s best for the team, with no room for ego or sentiment – best of luck with that one Manuel.
Only Aguero, Hart and the understated Fabian Delph emerged with any credit from yet another underwhelming away day. With City being overrun in midfield, it was all the more perplexing that Pellegrini failed to introduce Fernandinho as a second half substitute.
With more than half the season done and 48 precious points still up for grabs, is City’s proverbial glass half full or half empty?
New Year showings at West Ham, Everton in the League Cup semi final 1st Leg and, for long spells, at Watford have given cause for concern.
True, City can sometimes grind out a result, but where’s the determination, dynamism and dominance that such a talented squad should be displaying?
The flair and silky skills were evident against Norwich in the FA Cup and Crystal Palace at the Etihad, but it’s all rather hit and miss on a weekly basis.
All is far from lost, but Pellegrini has to get a proper tune out of his squad in the coming weeks or City will be feeling, rather than singing, the blues.
Everton and Villa are next up in the domestic cups before a potential banana skin at The Stadium of Light where, until recently, City were as illuminating as a 15 watt bulb.
Back-to-back 4-1 romps on Wearside in the league last season and the League Cup in September, plus a similarly resounding Boxing Day win at the Etihad, are three good reasons for optimism, but you never can tell with City’s Keystone Cop defending. Strangely, City still have the fourth best defensive record in the top tier and, as ever have scored the most goals.
Amazingly and disturbingly, City are without a win against any of the top seven teams in seven games so far this campaign.
It makes the clashes against leaders Leicester and 4th placed Spurs at the Etihad next month, even more pivotal to City’s title tilt.
After that, if, as hoped, City have beaten a struggling Villa in the FA Cup, it’ll be a 5th Round tie and then off to the Ukraine for a critical encounter in Kiev in the Champions League.
The month will hopefully be rounded off with a visit to Wembley and a Capital Cup win. Failing that, it’s another trip to the North East and a date with The Toon – the Geordies having failed to beat City in the league since September 2005.
It’s a gruelling fixture list and City need players fit and focused to take the spoils.
It’s a time for on the field leadership, intensity and a winning mentality. It’s a time for putting any ‘Pep’ talk to one side and for players to live up to their job descriptions as ‘professional’ footballers.
2016 could be Manchester City’s finest' hour' – it really could. Equally, the next 16 weeks could be the biggest anti-climax in City’s history.
Rather like Manuel’s hairdryer, it could blow hot or cold.
By David Walker
Dedicated to a true Manchester City Lady Blue, Alison Hignett and daughters Rebecca and Abigail, following the loss of husband and dad, Barrie. Rather like a fine Spanish wine, Barrie was a more than decent ‘red’ and will be greatly missed.
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu