There was talk of European coefficients, the collective failure of English football, of Pellegrini losing the plot and City’s failure not only to compete in Europe, but their failure to show bite and mental toughness by dealing with adversity. Well eventually, somehow, City answered a few questions against the team whose name I will be copying and pasting throughout this report.
Thank god for that, it was a much needed victory when I was almost ready to give up on European football again. Give us a B! Give us an O! Give us an R….
By the end, the usual doubts and frailties had remained for all to see, but this time the result was achieved, so all is forgiven, for now.
For the hosts, their season had lurched from disaster to triumph, their manager departing last week, and the team revitalised immediately. With the goals flowing again for <Borussia Mönchengladbach> this was never going to be easy, especially considering City’s capitulation at White Hart Lane at the weekend.
So the main talking point from the team sheet was the return of Silva, and finally seeing how he could link up with De Bruyne, Due to injuries, the rest of the team picked itself almost, though it was reassuring to see Hart back in net – only later would we realise just how reassuring.
Did City have to win? No, but as Robbie Savage mentioned 47 times, it was certainly crucial not to lose.
And from the early stages, this was clearly going to be a wonderful match for the neutral, and a stressful one for City fans. Borussia were intent on attacking, leaving space for City’s “fab four”, whilst City’s midfield pairing of Fernandinho and Toure just cannot keep a defence fully protected, so there was danger every time either side attacked.
And here’s the crux of the problem for Manuel Pellegrini, that could undermine what is surely (this time) his final season. Yaya Toure was once called a liability by Didi Hamann after getting the run-around from the Southampton midfield, and he does not fit in certain games, and this is especially true of Champions League games – or more to the point, he does not fit as a central midfield pairing against lively opposition, as he is next to useless facing his own goal. He is one of the greatest midfielders I will ever see in a City kit, but he is not an all-rounder, not now, even if his career suggests otherwise. If he was further forward then he could do what he does best, but there’s no room there with Silva, De Bruyne, Stelring and Aguero. Play all these and Yaya and we get overrun – someone has to be dropped, and it’s probably Toure, but would the manager have the nerve to do it if he was fit and available? (which he might not be in the near future anyway). This is not to attack him or the other players individually, as his midfield partner in crime Fernandinho has been a complete success this season, but the best team is not necessarily the best 11 players available, but the 11 that form the best shape – that allows the defence to be protected so they aren’t spending half the game back-peddling, whilst linking midfield to attack and midfield to defence. Generally this means playing a defensive midfielder, especially against skilful, high energy European teams. Fernando may still prove to be utter pants, he may not, but he did play with an injury last season, and he’s our best option at the moment even if he ousts a far superior player occasionally. And at least history suggests our defensive midfielders seem to gradually improve with time.
And then we sell them.
And in Toure’s defence, on this occasion he probably wasn’t fit from the beginning. Which makes you wonder further why he was picked.
So I am about to lambast the team’s performance for the opening hour, but first the caveat – <Borussia Mönchengladbach> as I mentioned earlier, do not seem to be the sort of team that play for a 1-0 win. Their attacking style and excellent movement meant that they were always going to create the odd chance or three, and so would the opposition.
But. For the second game in a row, the Argentinean central defence pairing was at sixes and sevens. And perhaps eights and nines too. A bit of protection would have been nice, but still they were rather shambolic at times. Otamendi is new, and I am not worried about how he will do at City as I am confident he will do just fine. He may be a bit rash at time with his aggressive proactive defending, but there are pluses to such an approach too.
For Demichelis however, you get the feeling that time has finally caught up. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to make such conclusions from a week’s football, but the signs aren’t good. He is what he is though, our 4th choice central defender, and he should be good enough to “do a job” and perhaps lead us to Capital One Cup glory. Kompany’s calves unfortunately may result in needing him a lot more, and that’s the worry. Still, he’s perfectly capable of resurrecting himself – again.
Step forward, yet again, Joe Hart. It seems the Champion League is where Joe comes into his own (probably because he is a lot busier), and he delivered once more. A penalty save, great blocks, and later a good save from Raffael in the 2nd half, when City’s defence was sliced open, he was there to repair the damage. I’ll announce the Man of the Match now. It was Joe Hart.
And so to the penalty appeals in the first half. For the one that was given, the replays can leave us in no doubt it was not a penalty, though it’s not that easy at full speed. Let’s not ignore the fact that it was preceded by some poor defending, and City defenders needlessly diving in was a feature of the match, whilst Otamendi seems to run in front of the player with the ball, but Raffael, City’s chief tormentor, starts falling to the ground before there is any possible contact.
Justice is thus done with a great save by Hart.
As for the second one, I am trying not to be accused of bias here, so I will say from the outset I would fully have understood if it had been given, and a yellow card for a dive was ridiculous. Again, there was a completely unnecessary lunge by Fernandinho that was asking for trouble, but he does not tackle Stindl, and the player cleverly manages to ensure his foot crashes into Fernandinho’s back. Still, that’s how many penalties are won in modern football, and it could easily have been given without any cries of injustice as there is clear contact (not that contact means a foul blah blah) so I would concede that City were fortunate on this occasion. Reverse the teams and I’d want a penalty.
And whilst we’re at it, Fernandinho then blocks a shot with a hand in the second half, back turned – accidental so not a penalty, and even Robbie Savage agrees with that, but again it could have been given as it was stopping a goal-bound shot. We’ve had worse given us against us after all.
But City were creating too. Aguero was an enigma once more. How he missed the chance supplied to him by Sterling is almost as baffling as how he missed the chance at Sunderland, though he was stretching slightly, and the keeper did superbly, as he was to at the death also. He then burst through and sliced the ball wide, before shooting wide from a much more difficult position. It still wasn’t happening for him, but form is temporary.
City would have felt relieved to reach the break, but with Fernando on for the presumably injured Toure for the 2nd half, the team should have had a better shape. Though not immediately, as City continued to live dangerously, with the aforementioned Raffael shot saved by Hart and the penalty appeal. It was no surprise then when Stindl stroked the ball home after 54 minutes with no City player anywhere near him. You expect City’s central defenders to protect the six yard line, but still to gift him so much room when the ball was cut back was criminal. For once, Hart had no chance. Principal blame goes to Kolarov however who inexplicably wandered infield to hassle a <Borussia Mönchengladbach> player who already had a City player on him, leaving acres of space down the wing for Korb. It was Sunday League defending.
At this point I wanted the team to raise white flags and walk off. I wanted Pellegrini to call it a day and Vieira to take over for a bit. I wanted Demichelis to retire and for the ground to open up so I could ignore football for a few months. It’s easy to make knee-jerk reactions during a game, though also easy not to make a pathetic fool of yourself on Twitter by slagging off every player, unless you’re a jerk who uses football to release tension because your life is so crap, but I digress, because by full time we had all been made to look like fools.
Still, better was to come. Was it the better shape with Toure off, or did the home team simply tire? Either way, City responded and were dominant thereafter – a shame it took this long, but better late than never because for once over recent weeks, we got the response to adversity that we so craved from the team.
And in bizarre circumstances, City were soon level. Demichelis’ knee sent the ball towards goal, where it was duly hooked back from two yards over the line. Pretty much everyone stopped due to the fact that it was clearly a goal, but thankfully not Otamendi, who wellied the ball back towards goal, and one deflection later it was in the back of the net. How that whole sequence can be given as an own goal is beyond me, as Otamendi’s shot was on target.
I find the constant criticism of goal-line assistants rather tedious, as the constant bafflement at what they do rather overlooks the fact that they have a mic and communicate with the referee that way, so simply not having a flag to wave about doesn’t mean they are a waste of space.
Anyway, I was wrong. They are useless. How a man officiating in a high-level Champions League game can stand on a goal line looking into a net four yards away and not see a ball travel a good couple of feet over the line is inexplicable. And if it wasn’t for a deflected thunderbolt immediately after we could be bottom of the group because of it. Add the penalty claims to the mix, and it was not a great night for the man with the best view in the stadium.
Meanwhile, over in Porto, a ball is batted away by a home defender, and the man stood yards away thinks it is accidental or doesn’t see it. It really isn’t difficult to make decisions like this.
Still, City were back in it, and a draw would not have been a disaster. There was still intent from City though, who continued to threaten, Fernandinho fizzing one just over the bar. On came another sub.
Considering he gets slagged off more than any City player since Richard Edghill, it is only fair that we credit the role Navas played in dragging City to victory. He managed to waste one opportunity by wonderfully shooting sideways, but he pushed forward regularly, kept the home defence on the back foot, and even played some nice crosses and passes. Surely this is what he is made for – a super sub., who can punish a tiring opposition. But if only he could cross, just imagine what a player we would have…
And then at the death, an unexpected victory. It was a clear penalty, Aguero whacked on the calf, and credit to him for stroking home the winner under such pressure despite all his troubles. If he can do that, then more goals should surely follow soon. In fact he should have had a second, the keeper somehow deflecting a shot over the bar and busting his nose in the process.
So a welcome victory that puts the group back in the balance, and the double header against Sevilla is looking like deciding who follows Juventus into the knock out stages before being knocked out by Barcelona.
Raheem Sterling seems to be the newest target for the boo boys. I’m not claiming that he is an overwhelming success, and perhaps we could have expected a bit more, but he is 20 years old, and we paid a huge amount as we wanted him and that’s what it took to get him – we paid partly for potential, and it is crucial more than how well he is playing right now that he works on his weaknesses and improves year on year. If he does, he’ll be worth every penny. And despite mixed fortunes in the match (along with every other outfield player it should be noted), he should have had two assists, only the failures of others preventing this. At one point he crossed into empty space from a wonderful position that looked appalling but would have found De Bruyne if only the Belgian hadn’t mysteriously stopped his run a second previously. Let’s not forget too that half of this front line is new, and young – just imagine what they could be in two years.
For me, I think Sterling is a bit tentative – he is happy to play a simple ball back to Kolarov or Silva or De Bruyne rather than take the risk. He is no longer a young lad setting the world alight, but there is great responsibility on his shoulders in a team expected to compete for all honours. Perhaps, and it’s just a suggestion, we could try supporting him.
And in defence of Pellegrini, this was a great side, but still a side missing plenty of players. Clichy could still be considered a better bet than Kolarov in many games, Zabaleta is obviously a loss, Silva is not fit for 90 minutes, all back up strikers are injured, our best central defenders and captain are too, and no team can just absorb such loses and carry on as normal.
Another big decision looms for the manager though, as Zabaleta was introduced late in the match. Does he go back into the team, or stick with Sagna, who has been one of our best players so far this season? It would be harsh to drop him.
But I would anyway (after the international break).
So Hart was king, but credit too for Fernandinho, who continues to dazzle, and Sagna for showing us finally what he can bring to the team.
Sigh. There’s no avoiding it. Time to talk about Robbie Savage.
It’s tough watching your team playing unconvincingly, living dangerously, and going behind. When Robbie Savage is commentating on such a match, it’s akin to having your eyelids forced permanently open with matchsticks whilst having to watch Richard Hammond attempt to smash the world land speed record in your shiny new car. It’s never going to end well.
It’s hard to put into words just how Robbie Savage manages to irritate every single listener so comprehensively with a few select words. He is the human form of ten nails being scratched down a blackboard. One of the main problems is he seems exasperated at every move that breaks down, as if failing to score from any attacking move is a criminal offence. He repeats the SAME SODDING POINT forty times in quick succession, and it is always something as banal as “they need to be attacking crosses more” or “he needs to take a chance with that!” until you wish for the apocalypse over having to hear another Savage U-turn as a video replay shows his original assertion was incorrect or a good five minute spell means he completely reverses his opinions. Please please give me Michael Owen instead of this bore. At least I can blank his voice out. But not Savage. His voice, his hair, his snappy suits – they were all I could think of last night between the click of the light and the start of my dreams.
Special thanks to Arcade Fire for that line.
I probably should have taken those <> brackets out.