Stating the obvious, but losing to your most hated enemy is never a good thing.
When City capitulated 1-0 to United at the Etihad on March 20th it was a horrible gut churning experience, just as it had been when the Blues slumped to a 4-2 defeat at The Swamp last season.
But, and it’s a sizeable ‘BUT’, in adversity lies opportunity and opportunity is knocking on Manuel Pellegrini’s door like never before, in the shape of a seismic clash with his former employers, Real Madrid.
Whereas last season’s ignominious showing at the Theatre of Screams was the precursor for a record breaking run of 11 consecutive PL wins, this season’s abysmal home loss has ignited a resurgent City – evidenced by three straight top flight victories and an emotional 3-2 aggregate Champions League success over PSG.
The 3-0 battering of Chelsea served to show City’s new found form isn’t just reserved for European nights. It was a win made all the sweeter by Kevin De Bruyne’s return to Stamford Bridge and his ability to stuff it right up Jose Mourinho’s fundament – albeit poor old Guus Hiddink bore the brunt of KDB’s brilliance.
It also exacted sweet revenge for the farcical 5-1 FA Cup 5th Round defeat back in February, when Pellegrini was forced to field a much weakened team, due to injuries, ridiculous BBC TV programme scheduling and a Champions League trip to Kiev.
Branded a ‘£60m reject’ when he joined City from Wolfsburg, due to his perceived failure during a short but terse stay at Chelsea, KDB has sparked a dramatic upswing in City’s fortunes.
It wasn’t by chance that City’s title challenge fell away when KDB was crocked and ruled out for seven Premier League games, in which City could only muster a not-so-magnificent seven points from 21.
Prior to KDB suffering knee ligament damage in the League Cup semi final win over Everton, City were 2nd in the league, just three points behind the now Champions-elect, Leicester City.
The City haters in the media would have you believe it was the announcement of Pep Guardiola pending arrival that derailed the Blues’ bid for a third title in five years.
Utter tosh – KDB had been stretchered off the Etihad pitch four days beforehand – THAT was the primary factor.
Now back playing, KDB has scored 15 goals and supplied 13 assists – despite nine weeks sidelined throughout February and March. How would those numbers look had he stayed fit?
The same applies to Sergio Aguero – absent for eight PL games – but still having scored 21 goals in 25 appearances, leaving him well poised for a second consecutive Golden Boot Award.
Aguero is a one-man phenomenon with 133 goals in just 202 appearances (including 30 as a substitute) for City since 2011.
His hat-trick at Stamford Bridge took him to a not so flaky 99 scored in the Premier League. His link up play with KDB was breathtaking and his easy dispatch of an 80th minute penalty showed he had no hangover from his spot kick miss against PSG.
He’ll go in search of his 100th league goal tomorrow night against relegation-threatened Newcastle, the team he smashed five past in just 20 minutes at the Etihad in the reverse fixture.
The fact the win over Chelsea was achieved without Vincent Kompany, David Silva and, to a lesser extent, Raheem Sterling, gives real substance to end of season optimism.
Having managed a paltry 12 Premier League starts and a five minute Boxing Day cameo as a substitute, before his calf muscle flared up, Captain Fantastic Kompany’s latest comeback is now imminent.
The skipper has endured a desperate injury ravaged campaign, but he could yet lead City to the pinnacle of European club football.
Just as Kompany’s calves have let him down, Silva has soldiered on with his omnipresent ankle problems.
It’s taken a toll on El Mago in what, by his extraordinarily high standards, has been a disappointing sixth season in sky blue.
Silva has been pure gold for City since his arrival in the summer of 2010, but you get the impression Merlin could do with some respite to aid a recovery of sorts…enter stage left Samir Nasri.
The fiery Frenchman has returned from a five month lay-off to claim Man of the Match honours and the winning goal against WBA, before notching an impressive pass completion of 95% at Stamford Bridge.
Sadly ineligible for the Champions League push to Milan, a pumped up Nasri can cover the creative bases in key upcoming domestic clashes, while auditioning to be in Pep Guardiola’s squad for 2016/17 and beyond.
His countryman Eliaquim Mangala would have been short odds to be part of the Pep induced summer exodus, but that was before he finally started to perform like a £40m centre back.
Mangala’s renaissance symbolises City’s emergence in the Champions League, it’s as if self belief has finally been instilled in both the individual and the team.
Limited to just 18 PL starts so far due to injury and non-selection, Mangala was fleetingly detained by Greater Manchester police on Sunday morning on a routine ‘Stop & Search’.
When Mangala was asked to turn out his pockets, officers were surprised to find Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Diego Costa spill out onto the pavement!
If Mangala has turned the proverbial corner, he could have a big future under the guidance of Guardiola, albeit the ‘problematic’ centre back position will still need addressing in the transfer market.
April has been a momentous month, primarily for the historic progress to the last four of the Champions League, but also a resounding 4-0 romp at Bournemouth, a 2-1 victory over a resilient and ‘physical’ WBA in monsoon hit Manchester, plus three points at Chelsea.
It makes it all the more galling when City’s detractors pipe up with: ‘If they’d played like this earlier in the season, City would be 10 points clear with the title in the bag.’ If only it were that easy.
Injuries – medium and long term – have crippled City. The spine of Kompany, De Bruyne, Silva, Aguero and to a lesser degree, Nasri, have missed dozens of matches and City have paid the price.
Yes, there have been times when the application and attitude of players has been questioned and numerous occasions when Pellegrini’s formations and tactics have been criticized, even ridiculed.
But it comes back to injuries and player fatigue.
Injuries impact team selection options which, in turn, influences tactics depending on player availability.
Undoubtedly the feeling is one of disappointment and under achievement in the Premier League.
Conversely, who would have envisaged City being at European football’s top table, ahead of Barcelona, battling for a trophy affectionately known as ‘Big Ears’.
Which brings me nicely onto Gary Lineker and the rest of the bilious twits, or is that biased tw*ts – well, it’s something beginning with B & T – at BT Sport Football?
After the poison spat from an array of BT Sport pundits on City’s finest hour in the Champions League, we can finally dispense with any thoughts that City fans are paranoid…BT REALLY ARE OUT TO GET US!
Jake Humphrey’s now infamous quote, when speaking to Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes about City’s Champions League success, has been seized upon as the final piece of evidence to prove the case for the prosecution.
Humphrey said: “We’ve quite rightly criticised Manchester City numerous times this season in various matches, so therefore we should quite rightly praise them, as hard as it is…”
Humphrey engaged with the ex-Man Utd duo who bore expressions akin to a camel chewing its own faeces and a ginger ignoramus with chronic haemorrhoids.
Don’t you just love the virtues of integrity, objectivity and impartiality? If so, you’d be well advised to unsubscribe, or don’t subscribe at all, to BT Sport Football.
Add to that the wonderful Scouse insight of co-commentator and former City car park attendant, Steve ‘PointyMan’ McManaman, who, rather than focusing on England’s last Champions League standard-bearer, decided to tell ‘porkies’ about the ‘Emptihad’.
Strange observations by the former Spice Boy as the attendance of 53,039 actually exceeded the UEFA imposed limit of 53,000.
In stark contrast, 48 hours later McManaman, Michael Monotonedrone Owen and the rest of the BT rabble were virtually orgasmic with gushing praise, as Liverpool overcame Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League quarter final.
Admittedly, it was a thrilling 4-3 encounter, but the BT coverage in both tone and content, was the polar opposite of the begrudging grunts and snide asides aimed at City’s achievement in European football’s most prestigious competition
If BT Sport Football are so obsessed with trying to identify under occupancy at the Etihad, maybe City should place stickers on each seat telling BT to ‘pro-create with themselves’ and encourage TV cameras to zoom in when Real Madrid roll up on April 26th?
One can only hope City let their actions on the field speak louder than the untamed spite of their detractors.
Oh the irony, if Liddle old Citeh were to win the Champions League, while United couldn’t even celebrate with the ‘We’ve Come 4th Cup’.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu