Another late show from James Milner, but it was too little too late, through no fault of his own, as City’s terrible run of home form continued with another insipid, lifeless display as Chelsea placed another finger on the Premier League trophy.
To be honest, we all thought this would be a walkover, even with recent problems in mind. Hull have been pitiful recently, leaking goals for fun, struggling to score, and looking like a team doomed for the drop. Never mind, when a manager’s job is on the line, City are often more than willing to give the man a boost.
The line-up should have given the first hint of what was to come. Again, as is always the case, it was a good team that was easily good enough to win the game, but in a shape that seemed ill-equipped to deal with the opposition set-up. Dzeko came in up front, as did Nasri, meaning no place for Navas and Milner.
And so after ten minutes, you go the sense of how it was going to be another one of those days. I hate to use Ferguson’s United team as an example, but they are a blueprint for success, and teams often went to Old Trafford already beaten. Ferguson helped create this aura by sending his teams out all guns blazing, playing a high tempo and looking to blow away the opposition before they have time to settle. City on the other hand seem totally incapable of doing this. We pass and we pass and probe and probe and the opposition team put men behind the ball, settle into the game, and generally force a mistake out of the home team when they eventually venture forwards. That’s not to say this is a doomed tactic all the time as we’ve done it for a while and often it wears down the opposition in the last quarter, but I do wish we’d show some intent from the first minute.
And linked to that is the clear feeling to many of us that the play is plodding, predictable and almost boring.
So as per usual, having felt their way into the game. City generously opened up their defence for Hull, escaping once as the bar was rattled, Clichy once more showing his unwillingness to challenge robustly for crosses, and when the goal eventually did come, it was beyond comical. Demichelis cleared a ball that Hart had called for, though he was right to clear it, and a poor clearance coupled with Hart now being in an awful position mean Hart had to parry an incoming shot that was going wide anyway, Fernandinho then decided to attempt a stupid back heel to get rid of the ball, Zabaleta tackled the ball and player forcing the ball to fire onto the post, leaving a simple tap in at the far post as it bounced out. It was staggeringly inept, and summed up City’s error-strewn play right now.
The response was pretty much non-existent in the first half. No real shots, Nasri turning in and getting tackled by Bruce, a perfect example of the team’s reluctance to shoot when in good positions, and half-time arrived with a whimper.
As for the second half, more of the same. Navas came on for Fernando, to give us that much-needed width and Hull had little desire to attack, so it was a case of another 45 minutes of probing, Navas crossing blindly, and frustration. I’ve defended Navas on numerous times in the past, but it does frustrate me that he crosses into a packed box along the ground far too much, when a whipped cross would be much better.
Anyway, another blatant penalty for City was ignored by yet another referee. I cannot understand the reluctance to give us penalties this season – it was obvious to everyone in the ground that Bruce pushed Silva in the back, and yet once more it seems anything goes where City are concerned, and these numerous bad calls could cost us dear come season-end.
Milner was introduced and Silva strangely substituted, and there was little surprise when Dzeko departed also. Jovetic couldn’t change things from the bench though there was at least one excellent lofted pass to Aguero, and as all hope faded, up stepped Milner to fire a beautiful free-kick home, a ball that curled from outside the post and back into the goal. A point was better than none, but clearly wasn’t enough.
And so the end of another deeply frustrating day at the Etihad. I wish I could tell you what is up with this team at the moment, but I have no answers. I know, with hindsight, that the manager once more picked the wrong side, perhaps thinking any team would coast to victory, two up front when neither is fully fit a bad mistake, a lack of width against a bus-parking team proving costly, and moving Silva wide once more reducing his effectiveness. Fernando and Fernandino might have contributed in Rome and at Stamford Bridge, but they are lacklustre at home – Fernandinho is dragged back down to mediocrity, whilst Fernando still isn’t performing.
He’s not the only one though. Kompany’s troubles are well-documented, Zabaleta laying into him after committing a foul in the first half, but the Argentine is under-par too, as are so many more. The likes of Kompany and Aguero have had enough playing time to be fully fit by now.
The manager must be scrutinised for picking a team lacking such width when up against a team with men behind the ball –we just can’t stretch teams at all. What’s more, why drop Milner when he was one of our best players last week and when we are trying to sign him up to a new deal, and why continue to play a defensive midfielder so out of form?
Having broken club records whilst hauling Chelsea back over the Xmas period, it is baffling why the team has not been inspired to push on further. There really is a lack of energy in the team, there is a lack of variety or a Plan B, and we saw yet again that when Yaya Toure doesn’t play, we struggle, the nadir being a performance that makes Steve Bruce look like a tactical genius. It is ridiculous that we are still so reliant on a select few players. Now we are in danger of breaking new unwanted records having failed to win in five games, and we can’t even fashion many chances in games – Dzeko’s well-saved shot in the second half was our first chance of the game, and the first shot on target. Desperate stuff.
And so attention will turn again to two areas. Firstly, the manager, who has to take blame as the team is his responsibility. He isn’t firing the team up right now, and whilst the last thing I want is some neurotic arsehole like Mourinho in charge, Pellegrini’s tactic of saying little means he gives off the air of not doing much to arrest the slide, which might not be the case, but he is a closed book, so it just feels that way. Mancini got an easier ride because of his charisma, but I’m not getting sucked into discussing him ever again. Nice Instagram photo though Roberto.
The second area is of course our activity in the transfer market. We have a tendency to stand still after success, it enraged Mancini (damn, mentioned him again), and it is hampering the current manager. That’s not to excuse current performances, we should be doing much better with the talent at our disposal, and I was quite happy with the summer activity, but only with the understanding that we bought with one hand tied behind our back. Success does not have to be obtained by making big-money purchases, but it of course helps, and City have managed to spend over £100m in the past 18 months (Bony excluded), with little return, yet. Players take time of course, as Kompany and Zabaleta were hardly instant successes when they arrived, or even that well-known, but whilst Chelsea added the likes of Fabregas, Costa and Matic over the past year to strengthen their squad, we’ve not progressed in a similar manner, from a position of strength. It’s easy to criticise with hindsight of course, as having broken scoring records last season with Aguero injured for half the season and Negredo as much use as a wet towel after January, there seemed little need to strengthen our attack, especially with Jovetic at last fit again. I’ve no doubt that we will spend big in the summer with finances on an even keel and a few players shipped out, but the one purchase that sticks out like a sore thumb is Mangala.
I make no comment on how good he may be, and he will have been extensively scouted, but to pay £40m for a central defender (and it WAS £40m), you should be buying the world’s best central defender, ready-made for action, not potential. It was a ridiculous price, scammed by a club who are excellent at getting maximum prices for their players, and with a limited budget it made little sense, even though buying a defender was clearly the priority in the summer. I hope he comes good, but by spending so much on him it has hampered us elsewhere.
And if we must criticise our buying policy, then we cannot just focus on our manager, as I’m not sure what input he has anyway. Our Spanish duo must also come under scrutiny if they continue to purchase players who don’t excel at the club. What’s more, our selling policy is not working either, as we are seemingly incapable of getting rid of players for good money (unlike Chelsea, who get suspiciously inflated values), often having to loan out unwanted players instead.
However, we don’t buy “crap” players (as many of our fans like to call some of our own), and none of our squad are rubbish. Fernando came with a great reputation, as did Caballero, one of La Liga’s highest-rated keepers. Jovetic had a huge reputation, tipped as a future world-star when he arrived, but sometimes players don’t settle, can’t handle the different pace of the Premier League or just don’t fit into the team. Every team has them. Look at the other “rubbish” players that have left the club. Boateng is a first-team player at one of Europe’s best clubs, whilst Savic is one of Italy’s highest rated young defenders. The question we should be asking sometimes is not whether players in our team are rubbish, but why we make them look rubbish?
It is clear now City have no more lives left – which is bad news with Stoke away on the horizon. We really do have to win that game, and the games that follow. We’ve come back from hopeless situations before, but I’m not sure we will this time. Yesterday felt like confirmation of that.
Another problem with this bad run is that we must now look down the table rather than look up. The chasing pack is close, and there is no guarantee of a top-four finish, let alone a title.
Still, at half-time a friend said Pellegrini should be sacked. An utterly pointless and ridiculous idea that I’d expect from a set of fans rather spoilt nowadays, but then I remembered – Harry Redknapp is available! Let’s hope his non-existent knee injury clears up soon……