Will City be legless on Boxing Day?
If you thought Oscar Pistorius had a flaky defence just take a look at Manchester City’s and it’s easy to see how their legs are going from underneath their Premier League title challenge.
City have been held by rock bottom Aston Villa, stuffed by Stoke and outgunned by Arsenal as they’ve dropped 11 out of the last 18 points.
Manuel Pellegrini is the proverbial ‘dead man walking’ following Pep Guardiola’s announcement that he’s leaving Bayern Munich at the end of the season.
Unlike Mourinho’s departure from Chelski or ‘King’ Louis’ pending dethroning at The Swamp, Manuel’s departure from the Etihad will be amicable...part of the long term masterplan by Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al Mubarak.
CEO Ferran Soriano and Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, have never hidden their desire to once again work with Pep, following their golden era at Barcelona.
Rumours abound that City’s MP could well stay within the £2billion City Group, with a possible expansion into South America – even Chile – making Pellegrini’s presence all the more relevant for both parties.
That’s for the summer. It’s the here and now in the depths of winter that Pellegrini and City have to earn their corn and cut out the lack lustre league performances.
Why do City irritate by only 'playing' sporadically and not the full 90 minutes plus? It's all well and good having a terrace chant of ‘We Fight Till the End’, but what of the start and middle periods?
How many of us would keep our jobs if we breezed into work, impressed the boss up until 10am, slacked off for five or six hours and then put in a storming last half-an-hour before clocking off?
Admittedly, it’s an exaggeration of the point, but City fans who regularly attend matches will get the gist of the argument.
Doubtless City’s multi-millionaire players will have extravagant watches from the likes of Hublot, Breitling and Rolex and none where Mickey Mouse’s tennis racket is used as the hour hand, so why play like a Mickey Mouse outfit?
The Premier League is ripe for the taking for the third time in five seasons, so it’s high time City stopped playing in fits and starts and put in some proper shifts.
We’ve already done the Oscar Pistorius analogy, but he didn’t shell out £72m in fees to assemble a defence team that wouldn’t pass muster, if scrutinised by the Trading Standards Office.
If, as expected, Guardiola is coming to the Etihad, one can only surmise he’ll want the lion’s share of the £265m Chinese investment in the City Group to reshape the team – starting with the centre backs.
Captain Fantastic Kompany is one of the best central defenders in the world when he makes it onto the pitch, but it’s an all too rare occurrence nowadays. Fingers crossed he's back today after a persistent calf injury.
City have been unbeaten in the eight PL games where Kompany has started, conceding just once. They’ve lost five of nine without him and let in 18 goals. It’s an obscene fact and one that shames the rest of City’s so called ‘defence’.
Nicolas Otamendi is adapting to the English Premier League but is sometimes prone to impetuous challenges. He complained about the wind at Stoke in City's abject defeat. Did it ruffle his exotic haircut?
Eliaquim Mangala was supposed to be the world’s next great centre back, but in which world?
The Frenchman, purchased for a whopping £42m from the Portuguese Primeira Liga, is just about out of time with City supporters after a season and a half of inconsistent and sometimes calamitous showings.
Martin Demichelis, quite rightly a cult figure with the fans after a rocky start to his City career in 2013, seems to have gone on for one season too long in the fast paced and highly demanding Premier League. Demi has been great, but no more.
What should – on paper at least– be one of City’s greatest strengths, is a primary weakness. It’s born out by just two clean sheets in all competitions – both 0-0 stalemates – since starting the season in Scrooge-like form, with five Premier League shutouts.
It doesn't take the Ghost of Christmas Future to know it's a damn sight harder to win titles by having to score two, three or four goals every game to take maximum points.
Pablo Zabaleta’s prolonged absence has hurt the team, despite some ‘solid’ games from stand-in Bacary Sagna. He looks ready to return after knee ligament damage. When on form, Zaba is still one the best right backs in the world.
Over on the left flank, just about every City fan knew a top class left back should have been a priority last summer – but no.
Alex Sandro was allowed to elude the net moving from Porto to Juventus, and then impressing the hell out of everybody when Juve came up against City in the Champions League.
The bitter irony being that City have handed over £54m to Porto in recent seasons for ‘marque’ signings Mangala and Fernando, the latter being nicknamed the ‘Octopus’ for his ability to ‘reach in’ and tackle the ball away from opponents.
He should be called the ‘Crab’. He moves sideways and, if you make crab plural, he’s a Brazilian who irritates the hell out of you!
The January transfer window beckons, but will City wait for next summer’s changing of the guard or, take direction from Pep on who he wants in his future squad?
Kompany and Zaba appear to be on the cusp of a return so a lot will depend on their fitness and form. Maybe they can stem the flow of goals conceded, while a fit and raring to go Sergio Aguero can start balancing the scales at the opposite end of the field.
Injuries have blighted the season thus far, with City’s spine often broken by the prolonged absences of Kompany, Silva and Aguero. If the trio can stay injury free the title is still there for the taking in a hugely unpredictable season.
It continues with an encounter against Sunderland, a team that has all too often, sprung a nasty surprise on City’s slickers.
Despite City being unbeaten at home in the top flight for 13 games, spanning 34 years, against the Mackems, the Wearsiders have still shocked the Etihad faithful.
A dramatic 3-3 draw in 2012, and an equally uncomfortable 2-2 outcome in 2014, looked to have derailed City’s title ambitions, before the Sky Blues went on to win their recent Premier League honours.
A Boxing Day draw against Fat Sam's side would be seen as equally costly, with City potentially falling eight points behind leaders Leicester and six adrift of Arsenal. It must not happen.
With Samir Nasri the only player still out injured any valid excuses – if any ever truly existed – have disappeared as quickly as the Christmas sherry.
On the day when the club's new badge is due to be revealed, the fans won't want to be crestfallen with the team's showing, as they appear to be with the allegedly leaked emblem.
City have to stand firm, no swaying or staggering and certainly no bottling it.
By David Walker
This article is dedicated to two True Blues – Andy Harper and Angie Hillwood – who lost dearly loved canine companions Jerry & Max in recent days and weeks. Also to a very special family – The Glennons – particularly Paul & Aileen who, in the face of adversity, show the world what true love looks like, day in and day out.
And finally...Compliments of the Season to all Read But Never Red readers and very best wishes for a Happy Blue Year in 2016.
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu