Phew –etc etc- reading these match blogs must be like Groundhog Day.
The magic of the FA Cup was here at last, and it is interesting that it still seems to mean more than the Champions League – the atmosphere was (initially) better and the day seemed more special with a near-capacity crowd, though this was obviously helped by competitive ticket pricing, which yet again has got the crowds in. It is nice to see an away crowd fill a whole stand too, what with it being such a rare sight.
The team was obviously going to be significantly changed from that which faced Sunderland just three days previous, and there was little to surprise. Caballero kept his place in goals, Kolarov and Sagna started as full-backs, and it was Mangala who partnered Boyata, a player who exists for days like this. Milner was a predictable starter as was Lampard. With Yaya off to Africa this week, he was bound to feature, as was Jovetic as the only fit forward player. The team picked itself once you considered how Pellegrini has treated such matches in the past.
The problem was, Pellegrini was come unstuck in such matches before, as have his predecessors. The 3-0 home defeat to Nottingham Forest still annoys me, but there have been many horror shows since, and they all follow the same routine. Blackburn away last season, then Wigan, and the first-half capitulation to Watford all spring to mind. The routine? Well, the manager picks a weakened side, a side still far superior to that of the opposition, the opposition raise their game, we struggle and play like strangers, and we pay the price. Thankfully this time, we just about got away with it.
And it is amazing how many times a few changes leaves a side so impotent. It’s usually the spine missing that does this, and as most of that spine was injured anyway, perhaps we should have seen it coming. Partnering Mangala, a player who has improved but is still finding his feet, with Boyata, a player who will never reach the heights, was a risky tactic and so it proved when their rather large striker Nuhiu seemed to don an invisibility cloak with no one tracking his run to put the visitors ahead.
Jermaine Jenas, an excellent addition to the Match of the Day sofa (there is no sofa really) blamed Mangala for the goal, but I don’t. To start with Mangala has got a woeful Kolarov on one side and Boyata on the other – good luck with that. Yes he was poor positionally, allowing May to run down the wing, but greater blame for me lies with Boyata who for some reason decides to amble towards May rather than track the runner and goal-scorer, whilst Sagna huffed and puffed and couldn’t get close to him.
So how could a team dismantled 7-0 just months before be posing such a problem? Well of course that day was all down to the second half, but this felt different. At half-time, pessimism overflowing, I would have taken a draw – stay in the cup and all that. Lampard flashed a shot wide, but in the first half City were totally lacking inspiration, incision, or any player who could make a difference. Their keeper was not tested, a worrying sign.
It was clear we needed a playmaker – specifically Silva needed to come on, and preferably Nasri too, and that’s what happened. There can be little criticism though of Pellegrini for their original omission though even if the team was lacking without them, as when he picked Silva for a game at home to Newcastle in the other cup, he was crucified.
Thankfully it all turned out well in the end. Sheffield Wednesday had the odd foray forwards, but were clearly tiring, and Silva presence soon turned crucial, a lovely pass through to Milner who nutmegged the keeper to level the scores. A nice present for the birthday boy, though there was better to come.
And then, late on. A cut-back from Navas, a flick-on from Silva, and Milner, played onside by a sliding defender near the touchline finished it off to send City into the fourth round and unlike last year preserve the joyous opportunity of a mid-season friendly in the UAE.
It’s sad to see Kolarov once more arguing with members of the crowd. It isn’t surprising though, the way a minority of our fans act sometimes. However bad a player might perform, personal insults are the sign of a cretin. Kolarov has been awful the last two games but he is coming back from injury and has shown in the past he needs a run of games to produce his best form. That’s not to excuse just how bad he has been at times, nor does it excuse abusing a player. Still, that’s nothing compared to the guy sat behind me, a masterclass in dumbness for 90 minutes that had me begging for mercy.
Elsewhere, Lampard was not as effective as we had hoped – maybe he is our super sub. Sagna was just ok, as usual, Navas grew into the game and again made his mark defensively, making a great block before setting up the winner. Caballero might not have the backing of our fans as a viable alternative to Hart, but when looking at distribution, there is only one winner, and it isn’t Joe. He had no chance with their goal. Jovetic frustrated again – I’m not sure, as others are, that he isn’t good enough, I just don’t think he fits in the team, and certainly doesn’t know his role in a team without any other strikers. As for Yaya, I may be doing him a disservice, but he had the air of a man trying to avoid over-exertion or injury before a major tournament.
The most important factor has been largely overlooked. Against Burnley, City kicked the wrong way in the first half, and we all saw what happened. Don’t do it again please – we kick towards the North Stand in the second half, it’s just the way of the world.
So onwards and upwards, with three trophies still to fight for. Only time will tell who will be back from injury in the coming weeks, though I’d expect our captain to be the first. Either way, it should be a rather different team next week.
As for the magic of the cup, there’s still two days of games to come – what an utter disgrace.
Over in Spain, David Moyes was masterminding a victory over Barcelona, so if he can do it…?