Manchester City 1 Wigan Athletic 2: Angry Thoughts
There’s little worse than waking up after fitful sleep and immediately realising that the terrible performance you had hoped was just a bad dream actually happened the day before. That was how I started the day, due to an embarrassing defeat, something I had hoped the team had resigned to history. Silly me.
A review of the match can be found elsewhere. What is gnawing away at me is the team that Pellegrini put out, the excuses, the ridiculous prioritisation of the wrong competition and not only the throwing away of a great chance of a domestic Cup double but also virtually handing Arsenal a trophy on a plate. They won’t repeat our mistakes. What gnaws away more than any one defeat though is the concern that our manager is not tactically aware enough to adapt to different situations.
The whole build up to the game was wrong, though hindsight is a wonderful thing and we fans fell into the same trap. The feeling was clear – we only had to turn up to win, tricky as the opposition were, especially with the front five we were playing. The sun was out, everyone was in good spirits, and Wembley beckoned once more. And yet every fan will have seen it, the elephant in the room – Lescott and Demichelis in defence once more.
I can excuse our manager making mistakes. He is human after all, and as a new manager in a new country, should be allowed the same transition phase as other managers get, especially considering the job the guy down the road is doing.
The thing is, I expect our manager to learn from mistakes. And yet yesterday Pellegrini seemed to fall into a trap for the third time in the same competition. Why can’t he not see what was staring everyone else in the face? Lescott is a fine defender who has served the club admirably, whilst Demichelis, for all his faults, has been harshly singled out at times, but we already know that the two alongside Kompany can do a job (sometimes), but together they are simply an accident waiting to happen. Pellegrini made it worse by throwing in reserve full-backs and a reserve keeper and the rest is history. This was a defence which arguably may all start next season elsewhere. And why does Joe Hart need resting? Did that one block he made against Denmark tire him out?
Without Kompany or Zabaleta, the team loses its drive – it happens every time we don’t play both of them, and it reasserts the theory that this squad does not have the depth many claim, and is reliant on a core of players. So why do it? Why?
When you narrow it down, the team put out at home to a championship side should have won with considerable ease, whatever our concerns. Pellegrini’s gamble should have had few repercussions and left him with super-fit key players for the midweek game. The front five should have had a field day. But a weak defence undermines a whole team, especially when the attackers are impotent for various reasons and a couple of your big players don’t play with any intensity or desire against “lesser” teams, not helped by yet another opposition manager being tactically aware and shackling City’s attacking players, Pellegrini being slow to react yet again, playing wide players against a back five, which suited Wigan perfectly. With three central defenders and wing-backs restricting Richards and Clichy, City created nothing for an hour, a statistic as damming as any defensive howlers.
City strikers have now not scored between them in their last 900 minutes on the pitch. Negredo is a shadow of his former self, Aguero has not hit the ground running post-injury this time whilst Dzeko cannot even hit the target with over 90 percent of his last 35+ shots. Damning.
The annoying thing is that it was clear after ten minutes that the shape was wrong.
To state the blindingly obvious, this was an FA Cup quarter final. It should have been the undisputed priority of the week. Sadly, the only people who seem to disagree with this is our manager and our owners. The owners have earned the right to prioritise as they see fit, though it is merely speculation anyway, along with the far-fetched conspiracy theories that they are dictating line ups to the manager. Whatever, City should have fielded their strongest side, whoever the opposition was. Can Pellegrini not remember as far back as Blackburn and Watford? Did he learn nothing? To prioritise a mid-week competition that City are as good as out of over being overwhelming favourites to reach an FA Cup semi-final and another trip to Wembley is unacceptable, and he even admitted post-match to underestimating Wigan, which is staggering and poses questions not only about him but his coaching staff. The second goal in the first leg against Barcelona should have been the moment that priorities switched exclusively to domestic affairs.
And make no mistake, prioritising the Champions League is what happened. For all Pellegrini’s claims that he rested players due to mid-week internationals four days before, that is what happened. To claim Kompany and Zabaleta couldn’t play because of that sounds like a poor excuse to me, especially as Aguero was on the pitch. And now Pellegrini has placed enormous pressure on himself to get something from the Nou Camp, whereas a victory over Wigan could have seen us travel with relatively low pressure on the players’ shoulders.
Having said all that, City should have won, with Wigan’s second goal probably a foul and numerous chances spurned on a day when the ball rarely dropped in the right place as it bounced off posts or the goalkeeper’s hands. The unintended bonus is not only to my bank balance but also to the fact that we will wake up on Thursday morning with City only in one competition (thoughts of beating Barcelona are the stuff of fantasy). The team need to re-focus and go for the league, though I feel that slipping away too. This is hardly all Pellegrini’s fault either. The players must take responsibility, and when fighting on four fronts there is always going to be rotation, but it all comes back to what should be prioritised and playing THAT defence.
The sad and worrying thing is that whatever your think about Pellegrini’s tactics yesterday, wherever you lay the blame, from perusing online yesterday evening it is clear that this result has tarnished the reputation of the Chilean. Predictable calls have emanated from a small section of spoilt reactionary fans calling for a new manager. This is par for the course with every City manager for the past 30 years or so it seems.
A minority have never truly accepted him anyway because of the man-love they still hold for his predecessor, but this surrender of a very winnable trophy has cut deep. Like any manager, as already mentioned, he has made mistakes – his poor mathematics skills in Munich was no laughing matter, his poor tactics in the home tie likewise. He has struggled to adapt at times to opposition teams that swamp midfield and shackle our team and his outburst after the Barcelona game was ill-advised. Then there was the home league game against Chelsea, where his tactics could have decided the title race. It’s a learning curve, but he lost supporters yesterday. It’s his job now to win them back, be flexible and adapt. A league title should do for starters.