Psychologists claim the third Monday of January is the nadir of the year for most of us. Applying a formula of bad weather, post Christmas debt, unpaid credit card bills, low motivational levels and already failed New Year’s resolutions, the boffins would have us believe that January 17th, 2022 is one of – if not the – most depressing day on the calendar.
Today is supposed to be ‘Blue Monday’ – 24 hours of doom and gloom for the general masses – but try telling that to Manchester City supporters as their team sit 11 points clear at the top of the table, after a 12th consecutive Premier League victory – the latest being a fully deserved 1-0 win over nearest rivals, Chelsea.
A Kevin De Bruyne wonder goal made the numerical difference as Pep Guardiola’s defending PL Champions emphasised the huge gulf in class over last season’s Champions League winners. City’s domination is reflected by a 13 point and 13 goal advantage after 22 games, with wins and clean sheets at both Stamford Bridge and the Etihad, as well as limiting Thomas Tuchel’s team to just one Romelu Lukaku shot on target throughout 180+ minutes.
It’s ironic that any realistic notion of Chelsea challenging to be domestic champions, came to an end just before the Londoners compete in the FIFA Club World Cup in, of all places, Abu Dhabi. How perverse that a club can be crowned European and possibly World Champions, and yet they can’t get so much as a sniff of ruling the roost in their own country.
Blue Monday may well apply to those of the royal shade of blue. Those away fans that made it up north for the Saturday lunchtime kick off, must be feeling as deflated as the little Champions League trophy balloons, which they so delighted in clinging onto in the South Stand enclosure.
On the field, Chelsea weren’t even all huff and puff – never matching City’s high press and work ethic. On the terraces their silver blow jobs floated aimlessly in the mid-winter Manchester chill. In truth they proved to be absolutely pointless – just like their team.
It’d all been so different five years to the day in 2017, when a Lukaku goal - this time in the blue of Everton - had started a 4-0 rout of City. It was Guardiola’s first visit to Goodison Park and it was horrible. The defeat left City in fifth place, trailing table-topping Chelsea by 10 points, with Pep conceding he had no chance of guiding City to the title in his debut season in England.
The knives were out – sharper than ever – as the media, press and pundits piled on the poison and vitriol, reasserting what they hoped and believed was the perceived wisdom – Guardiola had had it easy at Barcelona and Bayern Munich and was doomed to failure in England.
In the wake of what was indeed a miserable defeat – despite having 71% of possession – I wrote a Read But Never Red piece which included the following, ‘...massively disappointed and yes, p*ssed off today, but imagine what a smug, insufferable, self satisfied b@st@rd I’ll be, when Pep Guardiola proves all his doubters wrong in the years that lie ahead with Manchester City.'
Monday, January 16th 2017 was indeed a depressingly Blue Monday, but thankfully I did become the aforementioned smug, insufferable, self satisfied b@st@rd. Fast forward to the present day and a Covid19 cocked up few weeks in which City have adopted a mantra of ‘Winning not Whingeing’ – unlike Liverpool, Arsenal and to a lesser degree Chelsea.
Whilst not for a moment underplaying the seriousness of Covid19, it’s fair to say vaccines have changed the dynamics of the pandemic. Football paled into insignificance when countless thousands of people were dying in 2020 and last year but, by and large, the game in England has returned to something resembling ‘normality’.
Obviously games should be postponed if a club is riddled with Covid19 cases and unable to field a team. Health considerations are paramount, but getting games called off on the basis of unrealistically high and contentious numbers of false positive results, leaves a bad taste.
Arguably worse still, is having a single confirmed case of Covid being enough to get a match postponed at 24 hours notice. Citing players away on international duty at the African Cup of Nations, ‘conventional’ injuries and even suspensions, as valid reasons for a postponement is pathetic. Even more so when the club in question – you know the one who won the ‘We were beating Man City at Half Time Cup’ – had loaned out senior players in the days leading up to the fixture.
To top it all, you then have rival players and managers, noticeably Virgil van Dijk, Jurgen Klopp and Tuchel, stating and implying that City have somehow been ‘lucky’ to have been able to fulfil fixtures throughout December and January – and having the temerity to win the lot!
Inevitably the warped narrative, led by the traditional victims and the New Year’s Day Whingers from North London, has been shamelessly seized upon by the media.
Bearing in mind Pep lost his Mum to Covid in April, 2020, and both he and a total of 20 players and coaches in the ‘first team bubble’ tested positive for coronavirus before the 4-1 FA Cup win at Swindon, it is all the more incredulous.
It’s an unintended and back handed compliment from those seeking to detract from Guardiola and his team, that they would stoop so low.
Responding to one of his most pedantic inquisitors – Simon Stone of the BBC – at his weekly press conferences, Pep responded: “Are you saying Omicron doesn’t want to come here?
“We’ve had Covid and injuries like everybody else...the last four, five or six games, we have four or five academy players on the bench. We are in the same situation as everybody else.”
As if to illustrate the point still further, City had James McAtee, Romeo Lavia, Joshua Wilson-Esbrand and Luke Mbete among the subs against Chelsea. By contrast the visitors bench comprised Jorginho, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner, Ross Barkley, Saul Niguez and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – each and every one a full international for Italy, England, Spain and Germany respectively.
City’s top scorer this season, Riyad Mahrez was missing as he is with Algeria at AFCON, whereas Chelsea’s first choice keeper Edouard Mendy, is representing Senegal at the same tournament. Tuchel just about managed to scrape by when naming Kepa Arrizabalaga in goal – at £72m the world’s most expensive goalkeeper – more than twice the cost of Ederson
And yet the narrative is that it’s City with the ‘biggest’ squad, who are buying success and ruining the game. As Mark Twain once said, only to be quoted umpteen millions of times, ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’
If truth be told then maybe January 17th, 2022 isn’t actually Blue Monday? Maybe the eggheads should lobby City fans and revise their thinking. From a Sky Blue perspective it's turned out to be a very, very Happy Monday.
By David Walker