Saturday’s game could lead Manchester City supporters to wallow in pity and/or self-loathing, dwelling on missed chances and the fatal counter attacks from Chelsea. We could hole up our pride with thoughts of City’s almost-decisive possession.
Of course, we could blame the referees for a game that eventually spiraled into madness. What we saw against Chelsea was an incredible mix of highs and lows that the worldwide City community has to contemplate.
First, Leroy Sané represents a few different aspects of where City stand. His decisive movement in the attacking half was basically equalled by a misjudgments in defense against Victor Moses.
If Sané was rusty in judging crosses and 1-v-1 challenges, he was sharper than ever in advancing play. A guarantee of penetrating runs and deft set-up touches from the young German would be beneficial in City’s quest for goals. Many will oversimplify his mistakes as a symptom of Pep Guardiola and his constant tinkering with the lineup and over-emphasis on offense.
And then, there’s “Nico.”
Otamendi could receive a good bit of blame for Saturday’s result from pundits and supporters. As a defender by trade and a constant in the starting XI, he doesn’t have Sané’s excuse for being awkwardly out of synch. Managing counter attacks has to be a top priority for the Argentinian but he was over-aggressive on the ball and unstable.
On the other hand, there were glimpses of development in John Stones as the youngster man-marked Diego Costa. He appeared more capable than Nico in 1-v-1 situations and in the nuances of operating with three at the back.
Sergio Agüero and Kevin De Bruyne demonstrated their worth on many occasions, which makes the lack of goals scored feel that much more bewildering. Sergio took control on a number of occasions — moving between the lines during build-up, leading the attack, receiving counter-attack through balls from Bravo, and (more so than in recent fixtures) keeping the ball with direct runs.
De Bruyne’s crosses and set pieces will continue to help electrify the Etihad crew. If his heavy touch hadn’t hit the cross bar, if Fernandinho hadn’t been a hair offside, and if a number of other chances the Belgian helped create had gone all the way through, Citizens around the world would be celebrating today.
The team wasn’t impotent. We made Chelsea’s defense nervy, forced an own goal, and ran through the West Londoner’s lines with zeal. While it will be easy to feel a sense of desperation when looking at the ultimate outcome, with a few screws tightened at the CFA, a game like this could bring drastically different results in the future. The culture of confidence being wrought by Pep and Co. will continue to build.
In closing, I want obliged to mention the issue of officiating and sportsmanship.
The referee lost control around 20 minutes, the Etihad became agitated, and things never really settled. City’s concern and agitation was justified. Fortunately, it wasn’t until the very end that they became unhinged.
Agüero and Fernandinho have been instrumental as the team evolves to the highest echelon of professional football. They possess the ability to inspire with their work rate and skills. As leaders, their level of frustration — particularly the Brazilian midfielder — was surprising.
Otamendi, Silva, De Bruyne and even Pep allowed the focus to shift with growing theatrical reactions as the game progressed but Agüero’s challenge on David Luiz and Fernandinho’s choke slam in the final minutes of full-time were dismal distractions in a game that was mostly well played.