So much for the stroll in the park. Complacency abounded at the Etihad and the result was a defeat surely no one saw coming against a team who hadn’t previously scored at the Etihad and who didn’t record a single win away against any of the top 12 teams last season. Typical City.
Miserable weather, miserable match. The line-up saw a few changes, but none that can be attributed towards the defeat. Bacary Sagna made his league debut and Sergio Aguero was a welcome sight on the team-sheet.
There was no start once again for Fernandinho. You do wonder how he has fallen down the pecking order, but new signing Fernando seems the preferred option for Pellegrini right now, though injury may change that. Pushed out by Javi Garcia during last season’s title run-in, he has continued to occupy the bench this season, a strange fall from grace considering the wonderful performances he put in alongside Yaya Toure last season. You only hope that 7-1 defeat to Germany hasn’t dented his confidence further.
As for the game itself, it was such a frustrating afternoon. No one player was particularly better or worse than any other, as the whole team toiled against two banks of Stoke players who kept their discipline and shape throughout.
Stoke were perfectly entitled to line up as they did of course, as the result showed. Any team is allowed to line up however they see fit without barbs from the opposition and we can hardly expect teams to come to the Etihad playing open football – it would play right into our hands. City have to find a way round teams that pack the defence.
And good to see their fans not sell out their allocation – ticket prices are ridiculous and I won’t be paying that much to see a match. Their chants were predictably moronic at times (“your sister’s on Jeremy Kyle”??!) but at least they made some noise.
City toiled and toiled for no reward and what worried most was that this game was not a smash and grab job but one fully merited by the visitors. Even more annoying was it gave Mark Hughes the opportunity to look really smug. Stoke should have had a second goal shortly after the first, and apart from Begovic palming a couple of shots away and Toure hitting the bar on the stroke of half-time, City created little. Endless passes seemed half a yard off where they should be, whilst seemingly endless corners and crosses were planted onto the heads of Stoke defenders.
Perhaps Navas could have come on earlier. The game was crying out for width as there was no route down the middle. Sagna had an ok debut but didn’t offer the attacking threat Zabaleta usually does, which is a shame as when I have watched him he has a mean cross in him.
And then there’s the goal. Three players collectively share the blame here. Firstly, Kolarov got the wrong side of Diouf and was shaken off far too easily. Then the back-peddling Fernandinho was beaten too easily, though on a yellow card he was probably reluctant to commit to the tackle. Finally the shot should have been saved By Hart who was nut-megged by a shot struck straight at him without considerable force as he flopped to the floor. Hart seemed to gamble where the shot would go, and gambled wrongly.
Rest assured, Manuel Pellegrini has not signed Willy Caballero to be a definite number 2 goal-keeper. Perhaps he is not convinced about Joe Hart?
I’ve seen a few people blame City’s captain for the goal. I’ll just leave that there for you to digest.
As for the penalty appeals, it probably was a penalty to Stoke in the first half and it probably was for City in the second. The decision to book Toure was ridiculous, another pathetic decision from Mason, the sort of referee who immediately blows for a free kick every time a player goes to ground, unless of course there’s a penalty to give to City. Toure may have exaggerated his fall, but players do that 100 times a game without being booked.
As for Toure, I may be reading too much into a player who always has a languid style, but he still seems to be sulking or operating below full capacity. We need a return to last season’s all-action player, and quickly.
Fernando’s injury is a worry with Fernandinho off the boil and Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Chelsea on the horizon. Let’s hope it is nothing serious.
The real frustration lies with the lost opportunity to head into the next two difficult games with a bit of breathing space. Now the games become even more important and we could find ourselves well adrift of the top if we don’t improve. Now we have to dwell on the defeat as we enter into the most pointless ever international break.
Sometimes a day just needs forgetting so that you can move on. The heavens opened bang on full-time to soak us all, reminding me of leaving Wembley after the FA Cup final defeat to Wigan. By the time I got to the pub, Diego Costa, the player I was led to believe would be out injured for six weeks, so had taken him out of my Fantasy Football team, had scored at Everton after 35 seconds. One of those days. I’m hard-pushed to remember the feeling of trooping out the ground after a weekend home league defeat. Perhaps the last time was Norwich after the culling of Roberto Mancini.
If we sign Falcao, I will quite literally explode. It’s not going to happen is it? I really don’t want Negredo to leave, but if that’s the price to pay to get Falcao in and meet FFP requirements, then so be it. Possibly my favourite striker (apart from Sergio, obv).
We’re now only four points ahead of United. Be afraid.