Will the real Manchester City please stand up…provided it doesn’t involve tearing a hamstring, straining a calf or sustaining knee ligament damage.
Such is the unrelenting nature of City’s injury woes this season, one wonders if Manuel Pellegrini dined in a seafood restaurant the lobster would be off and pulled ‘mussels’ the only item on the menu.
Certainly his team have served up some unpalatable ‘mains’ in recent weeks. If the 4-1 annihilation at home to Liverpool wasn’t indigestible enough, the 2-0 capitulation at Stoke had most City fans reaching for the sick bag.
Abject performances have only served to further polarize opinions on Pellegrini, with those who have never warmed to the Chilean, twisting the knife, whereas the less rabid have reached tipping point.
If Manuel is even remotely paranoid, it doesn’t mean a sizeable slice of City supporters aren’t out to get him, thanks to his team’s schizophrenic manifestations.
And yet despite the prolonged absences of City’s truly world class trio of Aguero, Silva and Kompany, the stalwart Zabaleta, mercurial Nasri, plus an extensive list of niggles and ad hoc absences of others, Pellegrini still has his side alive and kicking on all fronts.
Instead of ‘We’re not really here’, City are well and truly there, progressing as Champions League Group winners for the first time, sitting three points off the summit of the Premier and through to the semi finals of the League Cup.
Not too shabby Manuel, not too shabby at all.
Were it not for the loss of Sergio, Captain Kompany and El Mago, City would surely be half-a-dozen points clear of the unseemly melee at the top of the PL.
City have still to ‘get going’ this season, but if the three man spine of the team can return and stay intact, it could be the backbone to the club’s greatest ever season.
It’s a fair assumption that this is more than likely Pellegrini’s third and final year as City’s manager. The decibels of ‘Pep talk’ continue to rise and if Guardiola has signalled his willingness to come to City, it’s a complete no brainer.
In the wake of the Liverpool defeat, there were many City fans lamenting the fact that Jurgen Klopp had taken up employment at Anfield and not the Etihad.
Animated, refreshingly honest, engaging and humorous, the German worked wonders at Borussia Dortmund with an attractive, all action approach.
His formula for defeating a lack lustre City was based on denying them time and space, destroying their composure and taking chances when they arose.
It worked and yet a fortnight later Liverpool lost to Newcastle…go figure.
It begs the question is the Premier League more exciting than ever before, or has it descended into mediocrity?
Whichever – if either – is true, Manchester City can still win it for a third time in five years and, a second time in three years under Manuel Pellegrini.
Nonetheless the incumbent MP at M11 3FF will be unseated in June 2016, if Guardiola contests the Manchester Managerial by-election.
Before then, City will search for summer in the spring when they have the opportunity to progress into the serious parts of the Champions League.
Make no mistake Group D – maybe not quite the Group of Death to which City had grown accustomed in the CL – was no walk in the park.
Tuesday night’s second half demolition of Borussia Moenchengladbach was mightily impressive in the face of adversity.
Idiot journalists sought to dismiss the Germans as ‘modest’ opposition, so modest that they’d destroyed Guardiola’s much heralded Bayern Munich 3-1, just three days beforehand.
Pellegrini gets all the brickbats when City turn up clueless, gutless and witless at The Britannia, but none of the plaudits when overcoming an accomplished Bundesliga side, whose only loss in the15 previous matches was against none other than City on September 30th.
Monday’s draw for the last 16 CL knockout stage will see City up against one of Gent, Kiev, PSV, Benfica, Roma or, knowing UEFA, most probably PSG.
Notwithstanding a trip to Paris, Zlatan Ibrahimovic & Co, it’s time for City to display their mettle and believe that they truly belong among Europe’s elite.
There’s no easy matches out there, just as there weren’t in Group D, nor even in a topsy-turvy Premier League.
With 33 domestic points to gain, a place in the League Cup Final up for grabs and hopefully two FA Cup ties to play before another European sortie, City are entering crucial and hectic times.
They start against an under-performing Swansea who have just sacked manager, Garry Monk. It comes too soon for Aguero, Kompany and Zabaleta, whereas Nasri remains a long-term casualty and Fernando is out with a hamstring injury.
Wilfried Bony might start against his old club having scored 6 goals in 12 starts and half-a-dozen appearances off the bench this season.
Promising, but oft infuriating, Raheem Sterling will look to carry on where he left off having scored a brace against Borussia on his 21st birthday. With 8 goals from 19 starts and 3 showings as a sub, Sterling’s stats look pretty good.
Judged by the size of his transfer fee, rather than his youth and vast potential, Raheem has been ineffective and frustrating at times, but electrifying on others. He can only get better in an attacking line up containing Aguero, Silva and Kevin De Bruyne.
The Belgian playmaker and goal taker was a prime target for the Borussia boo-boys on Tuesday, having won the German Cup last season with Wolfsburg.
Like the rest of the team (Joe Hart excluded), KDB went AWOL at Stoke, but the flame-haired fan’s favourite has been quick to settle at City.
Nine goals and numerous assists make him the best of City’s summer signings so far. His acquisition, along with Sterling, Nicolas Otamendi and Fabian Delph, has been instrumental in sustaining an unlikely quest for a quadruple.
City were widely credited as having the best dealings in the last transfer window and, despite a handful of desperate showings, all four are adapting to life at a club where expectations – both of the owner and the supporters – are sky high.
Off the field, Sheikh Mansour, Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak and CEO Ferran Soriano clinched a spectacular business coup, with a £265m Chinese investment for just a 13% stake in the City Group.
It values the Group at $3billion and puts City in pole position to capitalise on the vast commercial potential in China.
Football finance expert, David Bick commented: “City have blindsided other major clubs with one of the most remarkable deals I’ve ever seen in football.
“It catapults the valuation of the City Group – and obviously a big part of that is Manchester City – to an amount that is beginning to run alongside Manchester United.”
He said the deal will give City ‘major exposure in China’ adding it was a ‘heavyweight investment from heavyweight investors…’
The huge cash injection means City are more capable than ever before to pursue the signings of the best players on the planet, while placing strong emphasis on developing new talent via the incomparable City Football Academy.
If only the anatomies of City’s star players were as robust as the club’s bank balance.
Health and wealth permitting, the Sky Blues can hit a rich vein of form to cure the ills of recent weeks.
The much maligned Manuel could then emerge as the most successful manager in the history of Manchester City…and still be on his way in the summer.
By David Walker
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