Manchester City 2 Sunderland 2: Some Thoughts
How painful was that? For all the talk of bogey teams and teams fighting for their lives, I did not foresee significant problems with last night’s match, even less two minutes into the game. In the end, City had to scrape a draw due to a keeper howler and the title campaign appears to be on its last legs.
And so to the team-line up on a balmy sunny evening, which saw a return of Aguero and Negredo upfront and Milner in place of the semi-injured David Silva. As is always the case when we underperform against “lower” teams, the team put out was more than good enough to win the game comfortably.
One beautiful dummy by Negredo later and City gained an early lead via Fernandinho and we all sat back to enjoy a feast of football.
Which never transpired of course. Sunderland should have been level within a quarter of an hour as City laboured for virtually the rest of the match. The whole team looked jaded, the passing was always a yard out and the fight was lacking. The second half brought little improvement and it was little surprise really when Sunderland scored two quick goals. That Nasri miss at the end is another key moment in throwing this title away, but as the equalizer was rather fortunate and Sunderland had spurned good chances themselves, no one could really argue with the result.
Still, as the crowd didn’t seem arsed by the match, many not even bothering to turn up, it seems harsh to criticise the team. I’m no better so include myself in all of this, but it cannot help to have such apathy flowing down from the stands. We just expect to see the team win then go home happy it seems. Of course the players are paid rather well to do a job come-what-may.
James Milner, who I and many others would have been happy to have in the team was the poorest of the lot. He dovetails beautifully with Silva, less so without him and now with hindsight is there an argument that Navas and Milner were selected for the past two games the wrong way round? It’s easy this management lark, but City missed pace last night against a dogged deep-lying opposition. Again.
(though I presume Navas was injured? I have heard nothing about his exclusion)
What has really done for this team is that at the crucial stage of the season the team resembles a bunch of hung-over Sunday League players. The fitness of too many players has deserted them at the worst possible time and the squad depth is not sufficient to paper over the cracks. Pellegrini deserves criticism for many things, but he hasn’t had many breaks either. Losing your world-class striker for half a season does not help, and the other absentees are too many to mention. Every team has injuries of course, but City seemed to have timed theirs badly, and the resultant fall-off thus resembles your average Arsenal season.
To add to all of this, City are still over reliant on a key spine of players and seem incapable of functioning without them.
Psychology:. Manuel Pellegrini admitted after the game that the players were mentally tired after the Liverpool game. This isn’t really good enough and will predictably attract much ire from City fans. We had hoped that the defeat at Anfield would bolster a fighting spirit in the squad, whereas the opposite seems to have happened. The players must take some responsibility for this, they are paid well to overcome adversity, but Pellegrini too is responsible for firing this team up and on this occasion he failed. The accusations will continue to fly that he is “too nice” etc…
The other angle is that the team on a roll in the league and looking like clinching their first title on a generation sought help to deal with such matters. Ronnie O’ Sullivan, a man with many demons, successfully sought help from the same man. That man is the psychologist Steve Peters. No doubt many will dismiss using such avenues as lunacy, the sort of thing needed for people with serious problems, but other sports have already realised the importance of psychology and if our manager cannot fire up the players then he needs to hire staff as he would in other areas to help himself out. There is no stigma involved in hiring a psychologist, it should be the first signing of the summer. Of course the odd red-top may see it differently as Roy Hodgson found to his cost recently, but who cares?
It needs repeating, but this title challenge was essentially lost in the early months of the season, not now, when City suffered a number of away defeats as the new manager bedded in. City’s form since then has been Championship-winning form, but the early defeats have left little room for error. Chelsea on the other hand can lose at Crystal Palace and Aston Villa within a fortnight and still be in the race.
What really grates is the now daily harking back to our glorious leader Roberto Mancini. I am disappointed and down about the team’s performance last night and the week as a whole, but what is actually frustrating me more is some of our fans, not the players or manager. We all let off steam and say stupid things after a poor result and we all have the same right to an opinion. If you are a regular on social media you will be used to sifting through some ridiculous viewpoints by now, so it is hardly worth regurgitating some of them. What I cannot stay silent on though is Roberto Mancini.
The claims that Mancini would have done better this season or would have won two trophies by now or whatever is speculation that cannot be proven and has little basis in fact anyway. It is an argument that conveniently ignores last season and more to the point ignores the rather important fact that a year later some City fans still have trouble grasping – Roberto Mancini was not sacked due to results, so what he would or would not have done this season is irrelevant. And if you still pine for the Italian, do you not think it’s time to move on, because he is gone now, he isn’t coming back and our owners who put a billion pounds into the club and made all this possible did not want him at the club anymore. He will always have a place in our hearts, but what is done is done. If you are a City supporter, then support the new manager-he deserves time to bring more trophies to this club. If next season follows a similar trend then I will admit we have real problems.
There is one thing worse of course – and that is the tedious calls from a minority for Pellegrini to go now. It feels like I’ve spent the majority of the past five years defending whoever our current manager was. Looking back through the archives, I found three articles defending Mancini against the “out brigade” from his first two years in office, including this time two years ago of course. Nothing changes. There is clearly a section of our fan-base so utterly spoilt by the last few years they now think we have a divine right to win multiple trophies each season. They have learnt nothing from history and think changing the manager will fix everything, and will then start moaning once more when the new manager doesn’t start playing perfect football within six months. Anything less than capturing the big trophies is abject failure, fuelled by the media-led myth that our squad is so much better than everyone else’s and heads must roll and serious questions must now be asked.
Football thankfully doesn’t work like that. If the best team always won then no one would watch the games. I’m not trying to argue that this means criticism is not allowed, that’s ridiculous, just that the reaction when things don’t go our way is absurd from a select few. We’re no better than THEM.
The lines are too fine in football to write-off Pellegrini or do the opposite. If David Silva had finished an easy chance on Sunday or if Nasri had not missed an absolute sitter at the death last night we’d still be right in the title race. If both had scored as expected, we’d be the favourites. As Mancini might say – is football.
Now it is truly out of our hands. We need Steven Gerrard to succumb to dehydration from all his crying this week, Mourinho’s mind-games to confuse his own team so much they implode and for City to win their final 5 games. Stranger things have happened, but not many. As unlikely as it may seem (and it is unlikely), that scrambled point at home to Sunderland may prove crucial in a few weeks, as it did two seasons ago. Unfortunately, that time we were only up against one team, not two.