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Pep says ‘no complacency’ at far from purrfect City

Prior to Manchester City’s abject showing at Aston Villa on Wednesday night, Pep Guardiola said there was no complacency among his all-conquering Treble winners.



'You saw me standing alone...'

 

Sadly, and all too plainly, there was also a lack of control, conviction, courage, concentration and creativity, as City produced a pathetic performance against Unai Emery’s energetic, high pressing and pumped-up Villains.

 

Perspective is required in all matters, none more so than this being a City side shorn of Rodri, Grealish, Doku, long-term absentee De Bruyne, and a returning John Stones, short on match fitness.

 


Pep lost for the first time to an Unai Emery team.

It’s never a good sign when your goalkeeper is your best player on the pitch. Ederson – who’d been less than convincing in the controversial 3-3 draw with Spurs – pulled off at least three superb saves. Had he not done so, a three or four goal winning margin would’ve been a fair reflection of City’s mauling.


It's one thing losing, but it's the manner in which you lose!

 

Outmuscled, outplayed and outthought – with an inability to tackle – it was staggering to see City had ‘enjoyed’ 54% of the possession – a figure which owed everything to crab-like defensive passing,

 


Ederson was the only City player who emerged with any credibility.

The more damning statistic was Villa’s 22 shots on goal, contrasting with just two from City. In the recent run of disappointing draws against Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs, City have been more profligate than prolific, missing chances galore.

 

They couldn’t be accused of that at Villa Park – they created next to nothing.

 


City got what they deserved at Villa - nothing!

Yes, there’s mitigation for recent disappointments, but it fails to exonerate City from their own self-inflicted wounds.

 

Ruben Dias’ ‘goal’ was ridiculously ruled out against Klopp’s lot. The ball was clearly through Allison’s hands and beyond saving when Manuel Akanji made the slightest contact with the Liverpool keeper. Can you imagine had it been Ederson at Anfield and a Virgil van Dijk ‘goal’ being disallowed? No, me neither.



Dias's 'goal' should never have been disallowed.

 

Even that pales in comparison to hapless Simon Hooper’s ‘mistake’ when, having played advantage, he promptly denied City the said advantage, with Jack Grealish clean through on goal against Spurs.

 

There’s no certainty he’d have scored, but a damn fine chance City could’ve snatched the win. It’s laughable how Hooper’s howler has been chronically underplayed as simple ‘human error’. It stinks to high heaven!



WTF? Grealish was suitably perplexed with ref Hooper.

 

It’s deeply worrying how City have been vulnerable to swift counterattacks this season, a perfect illustration being the half time 2-0 deficit against RB Leipzig. Of course, City turned things around with a scintillating second half display, but there’s a puzzling malaise afflicting the Champions of England and the Champions of Europe this campaign.



City turned things around against RB Leipzig. Now they need to do the same with their present form.

 

What bitter irony if City were crowned World Club Champions in Saudi Arabia before Christmas, when they could conceivably come a cropper at Kenilworth Road, against a fired-up Luton Town scrapping for Premier League survival.

 


City are facing a charge of 'failing to control their players'. Absolutely farcical.

There can be no repeat of that infamous day in May 1983 when, Luton needing a win and City requiring a draw to stave off topflight relegation, clashed in a do-or-die duel at Maine Road.

 

Luton substitute Raddy Antic broke the stalemate four minutes from time to seal a 1-0 win to send City down. The final whistle saw Town’s manager David Pleat – resplendent in a cream suit – doing a jig of joy on the pitch. It’s an image that still haunts many a City fan to the present day.



Erling's distorted facial expression oozes exasperation!

 

Fast forward 40 years and the greatest manager of all time is digging into the mindset of his players. It’s a fine balancing trying to ease the pressure on his underperforming team, whilst warning of the consequences of any continuation.

 

The Catalan genius knows how to work the malicious media corps at his press conferences, with a well-crafted blend of self-deprecating humour, pragmatism and sarcasm.

 


Pep and City know what it takes to win the big prizes.

“At the moment we are not the best team in the world because we are not getting results. When you are winning you are the best team in the world – not winning it’s a crisis – it’s always exaggerated.”

 

A failure to take three points at Luton would be the first time City have gone five games without a win since Mark Hughes was in charge in 2009. Guardiola’s teams have set such a high bar that three draws and a loss is considered a catastrophe by many unenlightened minds.

 


Guardiola isn't fazed by a hint of adversity.

With a wry smile, Pep used the analogy of his serial winning team being akin to a beautiful self-satisfied cat, pampered, purring with pride and being lovingly stroked:

 

“For a long time, we’ve lived like a cat and known how good we are.”



City were the best of the best 6 months ago. They now have to prove it all over again.

 

Once again he rejected any suggestions of complacency but stated the obvious – if City don’t get back to winning ways his all-conquering team could not only miss out on a record-breaking fourth consecutive Premier League title, they might not even qualify for the Champions League.

 

He said the four-game winless streak is a ‘reality check’, almost a necessary evil, to get his players to refocus their efforts and turn a vice into a virtue. City have done it time and again, embarking on monster-like winning runs after Christmas.


It's nigh on inconceivable that City wouldn't qualify for the CL in 2024.

Maybe the City boss will tweak his tactical thinking. He’s always subscribed to a certain football ideology – possession, possession, possession – maximizing the opportunities to score and minimizing the threat of conceding.

 

In the past he has railed against any suggestion of Tiqui-taca (Tiki-taka) – the retention of the ball for the sake of it – emphasizing the need for it to deliver a positive end product. Possession is worthless if the opponents score more than you.

 


Aguero's injuries forced Guardiola into the False Nine formation.

The ‘False Nine’ tactical set-up, born of adversity, largely to Sergio Aguero’s injuries and absences, delivered back-to-back Premier League titles in 2021 and 2022, but never the Holy Grail of Champions League glory.

 


Haaland has already scored 71 goals for City after joining in the summer of 2022.

That came about with a conventional Number 9 and Erling Haaland’s gargantuan goals tally. It meant a more expansive playing style and less control of the midfield.

 

The recruitment of the exciting and electrifying wing play of Jeremy Doku is a delight to behold. The 21-year old Belgian oozes potential, but his inclusion and dribbling style is a trade off with less solidity in the middle of the park.

 


At just 21 yrs old, Doku has the potential to be a City superstar.

Guardiola dismissed as ‘too simplistic’ the notion of no Rodri means no wins. He’s probably right but Rodri has been suspended for four matches this season and City have lost the lot.

 

In the previous 43 games – with Rodri present – City were unbeaten. That said, even the world’s best defensive midfielder has put in some below par performances this season.

 


Rodri is virtually irreplaceable, whereas Ake is a key City defender.

The January transfer window beckons and City must – MUST – seek a top quality defensive midfield reinforcement(s), if they have realistic ambitions of retaining some, or all, of their treble of trophies.

 

It sends shudders down the spine to even contemplate Rodri sustaining serious injury. Sadly and clearly Kalvin Phillips – for all of Pep’s compliments about him as a person – is not the answer and absolutely needs to go next month.

 


It just hasn't worked out for Kalvin Phillips at City.

Whoever made the judgment call to recruit Phillips got it horribly wrong. Only time will tell if the Class of Summer 2023, e.g. Messrs Gvardiol, Nunes, Kovacic and Doku can help sustain City at previous dizzying heights.

 

What cannot be questioned is the thunderous intensity of City away support. On a cold and ultimately miserable Wednesday night in Birmingham, the travelling fans were magnificent.

 


Pep has often praised City's travelling support.

Rich, throaty choruses of ‘Champions of England, Champions of Europe’, were complemented by, ‘We know who we are, we know who we are, Champions of Europe, we know who we are’, along with a ditty aimed at the home support, ‘Have you ever won a Treble, have you f*ck’.


Having forced the Villa fans to ditch their timeless taunt of, ‘Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that’, it was especially galling to lose to their team for the first time in 10 years. If it doesn’t happen again until 2033 then, it won’t be so bad.

 


Pep sometimes asks City fans to up the volume at the Etihad.

However, it wasn’t the best look when Pep didn’t come over to the fans at the final whistle. One can only imagine his anger and frustration at his team’s atrocious attempts to play football, but 3,000 of them had paid to watch the same dire showing.

 

As a fan base, City supporters know how incredibly lucky they are to have Pep at the helm. They sing joyously that, ‘…We’ve got Guardiola…’ but it was a slight disappointment. So often in the past he has been fulsome in his praise for the travelling Blues.

 


City's fans have always been there in big numbers, through good and bad times.

The City manager occasionally asks for more noise within the Etihad Stadium – sometimes justifiably – but the ferocity of what could be generated is compromised by the half-and-half scarf wearers.

 

No one with half-a-brain can question the commercial imperative of City cultivating a global fan base. It boosts revenue streams and profitability as revealed in the Club’s 2022/23 Annual Report. Revenue rose to £712.8m – an increase of £99.8m – and profits of £80.4m, nearly double that of £41.7m in 2021/22.

 


Some of the half-and-half scarf wearers are more interested in taking pictures of the likes of Mo Salah.

The downside is less match day tickets available for hardcore supporters and more for fans, often more interested in taking pictures of the likes of Mo Salah!

 

City draw in substantial sums from ‘tourist fans’ – not a term intended in a pejorative fashion – as they spend heavily in the Club shop and on match day experiences. Perhaps City song sheets should be mandatory when purchasing such packages.

 


Here's to City needing those double decker buses at the end of this season.

Going forward it must be hoped City get back to doing their talking on the pitch, the fans roar them on from the ‘terraces’ and Pep and the players are still the cat’s whiskers at the end of the season.

 

 

By David Walker

 

Twitter @ReadButNeverRed

@djwskyblu

 

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16 Comments


"Crab-like defensive posture" got a giggle out of me. I know City fans are a bit salty about the backend changes away from last campaign's success with three center-backs and Stones (or Rico) pushing up into a double pivot, but I just love the potential of Kyle bombing down wing. There's something to be said for wanting to see a new strategy that focuses on athleticism. That said, yeah, the backline has been seemingly left vulnerable as a result. Fun read again, David.

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davidjwalker1
davidjwalker1
Dec 14, 2023
Replying to

Thanks for your positive feedback. I’m glad you laughed at my self indulgent, some might opine, ‘shellfish’ prose, but there you go!

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tracie465
tracie465
Dec 10, 2023

Another great read … thank you 🙏🏻🩵

There‘s a lot of negativity at the moment … I’m just putting my faith in Pep to overcome any adversity

Onwards and upwards … we fight til the end 🩵🩵🩵

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davidjwalker1
davidjwalker1
Dec 10, 2023
Replying to

We totally dominated the match today and thoroughly deserved the win. We had to cope with what might generously be called a ‘physical’ opponent - albeit I thought they were downright dirty and got away with ‘murder’. Thank you for reading and commenting once again.

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Another good read David from a City perspective, appreciated by a fan of different allegiance. It is a long season as the man himself says but I wouldn't bet against the end of season finishing with the same outcome as last year. I must get the odds on that.

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davidjwalker1
davidjwalker1
Dec 10, 2023
Replying to

You don’t get a complimentary tub of Quality Street - you do realise don’t you? 😂

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Fred Nelson
Fred Nelson
Dec 10, 2023

The team mentality has definitely dropped a little this season, the concession of numerous late goals from winning positions would seem to confirm this. All is not doom and gloom by any means though, a full strength City beats any team in the league. Start the ball rolling with 3 points today, then onwards and upwards from there. Get the squad fit for our now famous and annual new year run of form.

Excellent read, David 👍

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davidjwalker1
davidjwalker1
Dec 10, 2023
Replying to

Many thanks. Six points before we go to Saudi and then come back as World Club Champions, albeit Fluminese are a top team, and then continue a monster running streak 🩵💪🏻🩵👍🏻🩵

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We have been vulnerable most of season and below par but so what,we got the T shirt and will find our groove soon enough. I cannot wait to hear the biased media swallow their criticism when that happens!

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davidjwalker1
davidjwalker1
Dec 10, 2023
Replying to

It would be/will be absolutely gorgeous if it happens again. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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