So that is that – the title challenge officially laid to rest, the last rites read, the faithful masses shuffling away in tears. As soon as the social media whingefest began as the team was announced, I think we all knew how this would end.
So no Bony in the squad, clearly injured, and 4-4-2 again, which is more palatable against a “non-top” team but still got the heart fluttering and the stomach sinking slightly. City started the game in 4th position, and sadly that is where they ended it.
For all the avalanche of abuse thrown at manager, players, club, mascots and more, this was not one of the worst performances of recent months, though that is like saying Danny Dyer acts quite well in EastEnders – it’s all relative.
City dominated, and had chances, though there were lulls and poor performances as always. If this match was replayed 100 times, we’d win the vast majority on the balance of play, but that pretty much sums up the season. Soft goals conceded, decisions going against us (though I appreciate we’ll have benefited elsewhere, but it certainly hasn’t “evened out” this season), a lack of a killer instinct and a bad bounce of the ball – the Palace match was the season in microcosm.
And another poor line up did not help. Dzeko was predictably poor, and his time HAS to be up now at the club, and unlike the 17 previous times I have said it, I know this time I won’t have to backtrack again. What is really frustrating was that his performance was entirely predictable, which not only begs the question as to why we went 4-4-2 and played an out-of-form, lazy striker (there, I’ve said it), but then helped point to another weakness of the Chilean, namely his inability to change things when they are not working. In the first half, Yaya Toure was equally anonymous, but we all know that his removal from the pitch is never going to happen. His goal was the only thing of note on the night, and he then decided to try and replicate it with wild shot after wild shot. A bit harsh perhaps, as he came on strong in the closing stages, but for me it was too little too late.
And it was the same old story, though not all bad. City dominated the ball, having 73% possession, a huge amount in any game, but the long-standing problems did for us in the end. Plenty of sideways passing, plenty of slow build up that allowed Palace to get 10 men behind the ball, plenty of appalling corners, plenty of threaded balls cut out, close calls, the woodwork hit, deflections wide, but always falling just short. Navas frustrated as you knew he would, and Aguero’s poor form continues, worryingly. 22 shots and only 4 on target.
Their goal was offside, at least once. The initial head-down was the clearest one, and I don’t think the scorer Murray was, as he wasn’t in front of the ball. Carragher and Neville desperately tried to portray a technically offside goal as not being offside (nope, no idea either), as it seemed too much to admit that it was simply a bad decision. They even decided to freeze the action two frames too early to try and prove the officials right. Bizarre.
Whatever, it was the only chance the home side had from open play, bar an early ball fizzing across the area before being hit over, though I thought two players were offside then too. The second goal was a killer, a stupid (but soft) foul from Fernandinho, who was generally good, punished by an excellent free kick from Puncheon. Hart was for me too far over the other side, but at the end of the day it was inch perfect from the Palace player, so no need to apportion too much blame, much as Carragher tried .
After that, City offered little, with more sterile domination. Slowly the chances came, and yet another in a seemingly endless list of wrongly denied penalty claims came and went, the ball batted away by a Crystal Palace defender, the referee and linesman once more incapable of seeing what was in front of them.
Then Yaya finally lashed one in, and we hoped for a grandstand finish, but it never came. Speroni superbly clawed a Toure shot away, Milner put an excellent cross in that no one got on the end of, and that was that. The manager’s death knell, especially considering the next game, and I actually thought he might survive for another season with a strong finish to this one.
On the one hand Pellegrini can’t take all the blame for this result, as he sent out a team that dominated, but line ups are littered with the same mistakes, game after game. Two up front. Central defenders swapped AGAIN, then ridiculous substitutions, such as bringing Milner on with three minutes to go. WHY?!
Thanks to a bad fortnight for Liverpool, the top four berth is still relatively secure, for now. After United, City have a fairly good run-in (could be better, but could be a lot worse), so the players must do what they can to haul their sorry asses over the line. Fourth means a Champions League qualifier, which we could well do without, so we have to target third. The depressing fact is that since January 10th, City have won 4 games. For all the bad refereeing decisions and marginal calls, that is simply unacceptable.
So a big, big summer ahead. Out for me should go Dzeko, Toure, Kolarov, Jovetic and perhaps even Nasri, if only to raise funds. I know he’s had his best season, but he’ll never hit the heights for me. The only problem is that if Silva gets injured, we need him. Sagna and Navas will probably stay, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep if they went. Milner is probably going, Lampard definitely is (was it really worth creating a diplomatic incident to keep him?) and a few youngsters will fall by the wayside, as always.
We need to buy players that fit the system we have decided to play in the future.
And out will almost certainly go Pellegrini, and I have no defence left for him. City’s problems go far deeper than the Chilean this season, and I get annoyed at how the players often get off scot-free at his expense. However, it seems his tenure has run its course – it’s a results game, and he has come up short, very short. There is little sentiment in the game, and he knows the score. He will get a nice pay off and work somewhere else. And the sad thing is, with all the vitriol he has received this season, the man who oversaw, in his debut season, the club’s most successful ever season, for a club starved of success in recent years, will be little more than a footnote in this club’s history. I find that rather depressing.
And I hate to say it, but what depresses most, as I can take a bit of bad form, and history has made me impervious to managerial changes, are the fans.
No, not you. You’re great.
Criticism, as I’ve said many a time, is fine. Wanting the manager to go – hard to argue. No, it’s the vitriol that hurts, and it’s everywhere nowadays. Someone even complained on Twitter last night because the players didn’t wave at him on the victory parade. Let it go mate.
But there have been too many mistakes. He just can’t get the team motivated anymore, he has no Plan B, is stubborn, does not react during games quickly enough, tinkers far too much (with the central defence especially), and for me has left the defence isolated and open to too much criticism. Sometimes you have to shore up a game, sometimes you have to play direct, and sometimes a big player has to be left-out to maintain the right team shape. Pellegrini doesn’t seem to want to do any of those things, and seems to think that if he puts out a good team, business will take care of itself. Most of the time it will, but not often enough, and once a rut sets in, there’s little chance of getting out of it if you are not flexible and open to change.
Anyway, forget about the impending derby. It’s all about the Masters golf. Concentrate on the Masters golf.
I don’t even like golf.