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‘Tis City’s Season of Giving’


Christmas came early for Crystal Palace as Manchester City continued with the, ‘Tis the Season of Giving’ sentiment, albeit Pep Guardiola’s team started handing out gifts in mid-November.

 


Pep's frustration at City's gifts to opponents is shared by the fans.

After a welcome return to winning ways at Luton Town and Red Star Belgrade, it was back to squandering leads in the final stages at the Etihad for a third consecutive Premier League encounter – and lest we forget the 95th minute penalty giveaway to Chelsea’s Cole Palmer at Stamford Bridge.

 

Palace’s Michael Olise converted his spot kick – also in the 95th minute – as City surrendered a two-goal advantage and, what had appeared to be, domination of the match.

 


It'd all seemed so different when Jack Grealish put City ahead.

The art of game management has previously been one of the pillars of City’s continued success. Having put themselves in a winning position in previous campaigns, the three points were hardly ever relinquished – especially not in the dying embers of matches.

 

City have effectively deprived themselves of eight points by conceding equalizers in the 95th, 80th, 90th and 95th minutes against Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and Palace respectively.

 


City's players were beside themselves when denied advantage against Spurs.

It’s enough to prompt the old chestnut about teams, managers and players not being allowed to own a dog – they’d never be able to hang on to the lead. City are more Shih Tzu than Shepherd, when striving to round up the points and see themselves safely home.

 

And yet, amidst all of the defensive disorientation and out-of-character calamities, City are ‘only’ five points behind league leaders Arsenal and four adrift of second placed Liverpool – who face each other this weekend – as the Blues aspire to become World Club Champions in Saudi Arabia on Friday night.

 


KDB's return will be akin to a new world class signing.

Guardiola is never a man to seek excuses in adversity, even when consistently denied the talents of Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones and, more recently Erling Haaland and Jeremy Doku, through injuries.

 

He said: “It’s not bad luck, it’s deserved. We gave away two points, but if you give away a penalty, you deserve it.

 

“At the end it’s about being patient and not conceding transition – the things we have done for seven or eight years in this type of game.”

 


Pep is his usual pragmatic self when analysing City's dropped points.

Despite City’s total of 34 points from their first 17 Premier League games being the fewest under Pep since he took charge in 2016, and the fact they sit outside of the top three at this stage, there are no panic buttons being pushed.


Of course, City have been far from their vintage best. They’ve set the bar at such a height an Olympic gold medal winning pole vaulter would balk at the task.

 


Pep isn't pressing any panic buttons.

Having hit the highest of highs with last season’s remarkable Treble, it’s only human to have a psychological drop off in performance levels. It’s not intended and it doesn’t make it right, but shit can, and does, happen.

 

If it goes hand-in-hand with a temporary blip, City are far from out of contention for an unprecedented fourth consecutive PL title.

 


City are lining up the Club World Cup as their 5th trophy this calendar year.

Pep has consistently denied accusations of complacency among his players. If it doesn’t exist, it’s time to prove it. Panic seems to be the prevalent emotion in the closing stages of recent encounters.

 

Guardiola is the proverbial GOAT (Greatest Of All Time – just to avoid any confusion about feeding Shaun Goater) an innovative, ever evolving tactical genius, but even the best of the best can occasionally disappear up their own backsides, baffling the rest of us mere mortals.



Rodri is City's most influential player.

 

Football is all about opinions. Pep has a CV and silverware to trump anyone who challenges his abilities, but it doesn’t mean he always gets things right.

 

One puzzler from the Palace game was the absence of John Stones who was confined to the bench. Pep elected to play him in the dead rubber in Belgrade rather than prioritise three Premier League points.

 


Pep puzzlingly preferred to play John Stones at Red Star rather than against Palace.

City would have benefited from 95 minutes of ‘Johnny, Johnny Stones’, who’d have brought greater defensive solidity and added midfield presence.

 

Notwithstanding City’s biggest mistake of the summer, that of losing Ilkay Gundogan – Gundo has indicated he would’ve stayed had Txiki & Co acted earlier to keep him – the usually dominant midfield is now as solid as a Swiss cheese.

 


City are missing Gundogan's mastery of the midfield.

Injuries and suspensions have been a hindrance, but they are part and parcel of everyday football. Nunes needs time to settle and adjust to the playing style and Kovacic – by his own admission – is not ‘a Gundogan’.

 

The absence of KDB cannot be overstated, but Pep’s persistence in playing an inexperienced Rico Lewis – a converted full back – in a key midfield role at such a young age is questionable.

 


Rico Lewis (centre) was one of 5 CFA graduates who played at Red Star.

Lewis isn’t a scapegoat – far from it – but Pep’s perseverance, some might say stubbornness, is curious.

 

Sadly, Kalvin Phillips has fallen short of the standards required and has added nothing to the midfield depth.

Any effective shield in front of City’s defence – Rodri apart – has been conspicuous by its absence. It leaves the backline vulnerable and susceptible to swift counterattacks.

 


Was Kalvin kissing goodbye to his City career in Belgrade?

The sale of Aymeric Laporte has been called into question, but on the face of it the centre back corps of Dias, Ake, Akanji, Stones and Gvardiol should be more than adequate.

 

At just 21-years old and being played out of position at left back, Josko Gvardiol has come in for unjust criticism. Highly regarded and with huge potential to be a truly world class defender, the young Croatian needs time to adapt.



New kid in town - Gvardiol needs time to settle at City.

 

Further up the pitch, Jeremy Doku, another 21-year old, has made a positive impact with his eye-catching wing wizardry. It’s sparked a debate about who should play out wide left – the Belgian or Jack Grealish?

 

It’s very much horses for courses.

 


Doku has made a good impact with his tricky wing play.

Doku can be electrifying and exciting in attack, but at the moment he can’t protect his full back in the same fashion as Grealish. Tracking back and maintaining possession are not his forte, unlike Jack.

 

Who’s to say they can’t play in the same side with Grealish in a more central role. Super Jack was a mainstay of City’s Treble success and he’s now back adding goals to his game – three in the last three PL games.

 


Super Jack is back to winning the hearts and minds of City fans.

Phil Foden has looked the man most worthy of filling in for KDB, when deployed behind a clearly frustrated Erling Haaland. Foden’s quick feet, his ability to take the ball on the turn and one touch passing would generate a better supply line for the Nordic Meat Shield.

 

Haaland has missed his fair share of opportunities, but he’s been feeding off scraps for much of the season.

 


Haaland is missing the KDB goals supply line.

For all his goal-scoring acumen and work rate, Julian Alvarez, doesn’t have the Stockport Iniesta’s speed of thought, deft touch or vision.

 

Can the Argentinian World Cup winner play the No 10 role? Perhaps, but not as well as Foden.



Will Alvarez and Foden be fighting for the same place in Pep's First XI?

 

It’s fortunate Foden is still available for selection after Jacob Brown’s two-footed assault against Luton. It was a leg breaker – reviewed by VAR as a potential red card – and staggeringly dismissed as not even a foul.

 

Anybody who’s played the game and knows the pros and cons, can tell if a player has gone into a challenge with intent and malice aforethought.


It begs the question what does an opponent need to do to get sent off against City – decapitate one of our players?

 


Brown should've seen red against City.

In another minor, but equally mystifying moment, Bernardo was penalised for taking a foul throw. The throw-in had been textbook perfect.

 

The win was well deserved, but given referee Tim Robinson’s errant decision making and City’s dominance, it was amusing to hear the home supporters singing, ‘2-1 to the referee…’

 


Bernardo's equalizer at Luton was a thing of beauty.

One can only surmise that the idiots from Bedfordshire’s dozens upon dozens of villages had congregated at Kenilworth Road.

 

The run up to the frustrations and disappointment of the Palace game was punctuated by a night of pride for the City Academy, as graduates Micah Hamilton and Oscar Bobb scored in the 3-2 Champions League victory at Red Star Belgrade.

 


CFA graduate Micah Hamilton came of age in Belgrade.

In total, five Academy ‘products’ took part with Rico Lewis, Mahamadou Susoho and elder statesman, Foden, on the pitch during proceedings.

 

Kalvin Phillips clinically dispatched an 85th minute penalty to make it 3-1. He reacted by waving and blowing kisses to City’s travelling support – taken as a sign of his impending departure in January, most likely on loan to Juventus.

 


Oscar Bobb scored the first of what promises to be many goals for City.

He and the rest of the City squad are now in Jeddah preparing for Tuesday night’s FIFA Club World Cup semi final against Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds. It’d be a huge shock if City don’t get past the J league side and into Friday’s final.

 

Taking nothing for granted, the expectation will be that City front up to Fluminense – the Brazilian and Copa Libertadores Champions. It’s usually a case of the top team in Europe facing off with their South American counterparts.

 


Pep has a profound influence on City's players, none more so than Micah Hamilton, seen here as a 13-yr old ball boy.

Whereas the Club World Cup doesn’t carry anything like the gravitas of a Champions League or Premier League title, Pep said: “We take it as a privilege, it’s an honour to be here – it means you have done something exceptional in the past.”

 

Having been overly generous in recent weeks, it’d be nice if City could do a passable impersonation of Ebeneezer Scrooge, give nothing away and wrap up a fifth title this calendar year – just in time for Christmas.

 

 

By David Walker


Merry Christmas & a Happy Blue Year in 2024

 

It remains to be seen whether there’ll be another RBNR article before Christmas, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all the readers and supporters of the blog, the happiest of holidays. It’ll help if City are crowned World Champions and then go onto live up to that billing against Everton and Sheffield United.


The Milly-Rose Stirrup Foundation is a charity set up in memory of a very special little girl. More details and RBNR write ups in 2024.


That said, this Christmas will be the hardest ever for a truly wonderful set of people – the parents and family of Milly-Rose Stirrup, the beautiful little Sky Blue Angel, who passed away aged in February. Her brave Mum and Dad, Pip and Shaun, have set up a registered charity – The Milly-Rose Stirrup Foundation – in her memory and we’ll be writing about its work and achievements in 2024.


 

For those of you who might not be aware of Milly-Rose, click on the link to read the tribute.

 


 

Twitter @ReadButNeverRed

@djwskyblu

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8 Comments


Thank you for sharing again such a well informed and supported article David. I suspect that the fans are slightly unnerved because the club achieved so much last year and as a consequence have set the bar so high for themselves in the present. As an outsider looking in, I also sense that there have been some big charecters move on recently as the squad needs time to settle and gel. I also think that the temporary loss of KDB is massive and that his return will restore all that nervousness. The fact is however that City are still within touching distance of great things again this year.

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davidjwalker1
davidjwalker1
Dec 22, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for your generous comments. Pep always says if City are there or thereabouts in January, we have a great chance. Hopefully we can become ‘World Champions’ tonight and can retain the PL for an unprecedented 4th consecutive season come May.

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Excellent post once again MrW👍.

Biggest problems for me at City is we let Gundo go such a stupid decision. KDB missing it will be like signing a new player when he comes back.Plus we have been hit badly by injuries. But hopefully we will be round abouts when we get to the sharp end of season. It's me again the man that can't sign in (Doug)😁

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davidjwalker1
davidjwalker1
Dec 21, 2023
Replying to

‘Who are ya, who are ya?’ As ever thank you for your support and feedback.

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tracie465
tracie465
Dec 19, 2023

I love reading your blogs Mr RBNR .... thanks for another great read and for all you've shared throughout the year.

Thoughts and prayers from each and every Blue to the parents of our little blue angel at this tough time💙💔

Love and best wishes to you and yours Mr and Mrs RBNR - have a great Christmas and a happy and healthy 2024. 💙💙💙

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davidjwalker1
davidjwalker1
Dec 20, 2023
Replying to

That’s very kind of you and thank you for reading and taking the time to feedback your thoughts. I’ll be writing about the MRS Foundation and all the wonderful work being done by Pip and Shaun in 2024. A Merry Christmas and a Happy Blue New Year to you and Mr W.

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I was City were as consistent as your excellent writing David!

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davidjwalker1
davidjwalker1
Dec 20, 2023
Replying to

Thanks fella, unlike The Boys In Blue I don’t have any medals to show for it, but your comment is both very generous and amusing. Have a great Christmas and let’s hope City can make it a fourth consecutive PL title in 2024.

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