Oh dear. A lifeless, lethargic performance saw City fall to a rare away defeat, as Chelsea’s advantage in the title race widened.
With a fairly tough opening fixture list, this was one of the first opportunities for City to lessen the gap at the top of the table, as City start a period of “easier” fixtures after the Derby next week.
Of course, this visit to West Ham was always going to be tougher than usual. Sam Allardyce has finally thrown off the shackles and put together an exciting and resilient side. This was 4th v 2nd.
But yet again the team was announced and my heart sank. I felt the game was made for James Milner and not made for Jesus Navas, yet Navas got the nod,
More worryingly, Pellegrini once more opted for two upfront.
City actually started quite well, knocking the ball around nicely and getting into some good positions without delivering the killer ball. However, once Mangala was easily beaten for pace and the ball steeped in the net despite an element of offside, the defence fell to pieces.
The defending once more verged on the shambolic for the following fifteen minutes as City panicked and could not keep hold of the ball. Eventually, it became a case of surviving until half-time when hopefully the manager changed things around. City did survive, though there were spurned chances for West Ham, none more so when Downing headed over after a poor defensive header from Zabaleta. Whilst that period of domination could never be maintained by the Hammers, they continued to threaten throughout the game.
And so to the second half and eventually changes were made. City pressed, created more chances and the shape seemed better with Dzeko off the pitch and Jovetic on, but chances were not taken, Aguero especially guilty of spurning two chances in front of goal, whilst Toure smacked the bar.
Those misses were costly. The second goal was all too easy, as a free header was presented to Sakho with little resistance from Clichy at the far post, and he made no mistake despite Hart’s excellent attempt to keep the ball out.
It was soon back to a single goal deficit after Silva’s beautiful goal, making you wonder yet again why he doesn’t shoot more often. It was a magnificent series of skills from the moment he picked up the ball.
After that Jovetic forced an excellent save, but it wasn’t to be, and City could have few complaints.
Aguero is a case study in the downside of hyping up a player, as the world celebrated his genius after a four-goal haul last week. Since then, he has had a nightmare, and his miss from 6 yards out at 1-0 down was not only terrible, but a game – changer. He still magnificent of course, the greatest striker I have seen, his goal haul ridiculous, but boy did we miss his lethal finishing yesterday.
Worse news could follow though. A media campaign could slowly be rumbling into motion over whether Aguero should note face a three match ban for a stamp on Noble. Aguero should not receive a ban for one simple reason – namely that the referee was clearly looking straight at the incident, so cannot claim not to have seen it. Thus, that should be the end of the matter. Ignoring the rules though, and he is a lucky boy, just as he was when he did something similar to David Luiz. Slo-mo makes it look worse than it is, but if he had been sent off I couldn’t really complain. No doubt the incident will receive extensive coverage throughout the week with a Derby on the horizon. #paranoid
I always shy away from criticising a manager’s tactical set-up or formation as how could I know a tenth of what he does? However, it is time to break ranks, because when virtually every City fan is singing from the same hymn sheet, you begin to think you may have a point.
Pellegrini cannot be blamed for Zabaleta having a bad day or Clichy for having an even worse one, and whilst Yaya will once more attract more criticism I think he did alright (though not brilliantly, which is what we all pine for), but he can be criticised for playing Silva out wide again where he is less effective, or for playing two upfront when it keeps costing us points (which is linked to Silva having to play out wide as a result), or not reacting quickly enough when things aren’t going well. Dzeko offered little, and there was once more far too much room in midfield for the opposition to exploit and Fernando was not up to protecting the defence sufficiently.
4-4-2 is not a flawed formation in itself, I just don’t think we have the personnel to utilise it, especially away from home and in Europe, especially when Yaya is in the team, as he always is. Fernando is not up to scratch after his injury (I am confident he will be fine in the long term), and yet the likes of Fernandinho have been side-lined after such a wonderful debut season.
What’s more, it was blindingly obvious that changes were needed at half-time. So why do so many managers wait ten minutes before making substitutions? It makes no sense – there was no reason why a stern talking to at half time would suddenly make a disjointed formation suddenly sparkle after the break.
Pellegrini knows the score, he can see what is happening, so this all perplexes me. He is either stubborn or believes the system will win through and be a winning whoever the opposition is. I see no evidence of this ever being the case.
Still, credit where credit is due – West Ham were excellent, and sometimes it’s not all about finding blame but accepting that the opposition played well.
The poor showing of Clichy has confirmed what I have felt for some time – City should be on the market for a quality left-back in the next year. The resurrection of Kolarov has made it less of an issue, but neither he nor Clichy are top-class, as it is a weak area of the team for me. Clichy has not let City down much during his time at the club, but has never really excelled either.
As for Mangala. Another nervy first-half showing, as characterised by the first goal, he will have the knives out for him again. Mangala is well aware of the difficulties of adjusting to English football (and has spoken on the matter), but we need to decide on a centre-half pairing and stick with it to try and stop the leaks in the defence. Having spent £32m on Mangala, and with a favourable run of games approaching, it makes sense to me to stick with him and let him work his way into the team. Obviously a run of poor form cannot be ignored, but he hasn’t had a regular run in the team yet, as any defender needs in a new league – just see how across the road the likes of Vidic and Evra struggled before improving massively.
You don’t feel this Chelsea team has a collapse in them, but the season has six months to run and City have that very agreeable set of fixtures coming up. All they can do now is regroup and start a good run.
I won’t give any credence to #pellegriniout mentions on Twitter, as a quick search shows most people seem to be using it to moan about other people using it, but either way it deserves little coverage. For as long as I have known there have been fans calling for the manager’s head. The sense of entitlement has never been greater.
And so to a difficult afternoon wanting United to win (a draw would do) and Pellegrini’s tough choice of picking a team for the Capital One Cup on Wednesday night in a competition that matters, as last season showed, but with a big game looming.
Maybe City are destined to have one good season then one bad one. I’d probably settle for that, to be honest….