THOUGHT THE FIRST: Pelle’s Poor Choice.
If one were to choose a single match to represent the by now rather pathetic City chase for a Premier League title, one could do worse than pick today’s effort against Norwich City. And if one were to choose just a single statistic to represent City’s stumbling efforts to lift the league trophy, one could do worse than pick this one: no shots on goal after the 30th minute. To repeat—against Norwich City, perhaps the worst defense in the league outside of Aston Villa, City didn’t put a shot between the posts for the last hour of the match.
I’ve been a defender of Manuel Pellegrini for three seasons. His best quality, the one I like the most, is that he consistently gives players who have performed poorly a second chance to prove themselves. Unlike Mancini, he doesn’t isolate or ostracize. Unlike Mancini, he never criticizes players in the press. Unlike Mancini, he never complains about the players he doesn’t have, preferring instead to get the most out of the players he does have. The start of Willy Caballero, when everybody and their mothers were screaming for Joe Hart, was vintage Pellegrini and it resulted in a Cup win. There’s a reason there aren’t any articles about players grumbling behind the scenes.
With that said, the decision to start Wilfried Bony today was just wrong. For Bony to be effective he needs the ball serviced to him and he needs a lot of action to happen in the box; the more chaos, the better. The problem today was that:
a. Bony is only two games back from injury and
b. City’s fullbacks both had poor games offensively and
c. Norwich packed the middle of the defensive third of the pitch, daring City to attack wide and
d. City didn’t attack wide worth a damn.
Work beckoned so I couldn’t make my predicted starting eleven but I absolutely would have had Raheem Sterling on the left side of the pitch in place of Bony and I would’ve gone to a 4-2-3-1. This was the rare game where the absence of Yaya Toure, while important, didn’t have to be devastating. Fernando and Fernandinho controlled the middle third of the pitch, Kompany was dominant in the back but with Silva (who also played well) drifting to the middle, City had to put together a number of passes at the top of the box amidst a packed in defense or hope that the only place where they could attack wide—the right side of the pitch—would produce something. It didn’t happen and frankly, that’s on Pellegrini.
We haven’t won back-to-back games in the Premier League since October. The 2016 version of Manchester City could be counted on to do one thing very well: dominate the bottom teams. We’ve been flat track bullies all year. And today, with ten games left and facing a team that was all but tailor made for us to pounce, we came up with zero shots on goal in the last hour and zero goals for the match.
I’m as optimistic as anybody but that does it for me. This team doesn’t deserve the league title. This team deserves to sweat out a top 4 spot, one that is very much in question. Next week’s derby is our Premier League game of the season.
THOUGHT THE SECOND: Player Ratings
9 or above: Man of the Match
8 or above: A winning effort
7 or above: Did the job.
6 or above: Could’ve been better.
5 or below: Better off on the bench.
GK—Joe Hart (7): A professional, if unspectacular, performance. He made the right decisions, especially on a couple of punches.
LB—Gael Clichy (6.5): He was fine defensively but produced next to nothing wide. In fairness, he didn’t get a lot of help.
CB—Nicolas Otamendi (6.5): I’m about done with the swashbuckling defense. I’ll echo what I wrote last week—far too often, I see opposing players where Otamendi is supposed to be.
CB—Vincent Kompany (9): A dominating performance. Acknowledging the talents of others might be greater, there is no more important player for Manchester City than captain Kompany.
RB—Bacary Sagna (6): He’s had a fine season but as for today, scroll up to the Clichy performance with one caveat: Sagna actually had help and still didn’t produce.
CM—Fernando (7.5): Coming into his own nicely in year number two. Solid tackling, better than average passing but more than that, the decision making has improved immensely. A much more confident player now than at any time last season.
CM—Fernandinho (7): Not quite at Fernando’s level but not bad at all. The Brazilians won the middle of the pitch for City.
CAM—David Silva (8): In retrospect I was far too hard on Silva last week. He had a badly injured ankle in the Villa match. It would be nice if refs would do something to curtail the 3-5 tackles a game that are specifically aimed at Silva’s foot. He did what he could against an army of defenders.
RM—Jesus Navas (7): Every game, he hustles as much or more than anybody, backtracks like nobody’s business and every game, the commenter will call him a limited player who can’t score. Today, whoever was commenting for NBC said Pep will likely let him go but I think the opposite is the case.
ST—Wilfried Bony (6): I’m guessing the vast majority would rather this be two points lower. I think Bony’s use is limited in a closed penalty area with little to no wing play. He’s probably not in his best form yet but it can be argued we haven’t seen his best form since he’s put on a City shirt. I’ll repeat what I wrote above: he shouldn’t have started today.
ST—Sergio Aguero (7.5): In one sentence, Kun had too many touches and not enough shots.
Raheem Sterling (7): Getting significant stick online. I didn’t think he was that bad.
Kelechi Iheanacho (6.5): Simply put, he didn’t do enough with the chances he had though his chances and playing time were both very limited.
Pablo Zabaleta (NR): Too little time to rate.
THOUGHT THE THIRD: Big Signing, Farewell Too Soon and Injury
For those that missed these stories:
- · Ilkay Gundogan met with Txiki Bergiristain and is reportedly close.
- · Sergio Aguero says after the next World Cup, he’s done with City.
- · Yaya Toure might be out for the next CL match and beyond.
THOUGHT THE FOURTH: A Sentence That Scares Me
Seriously, what does Pep do if we don’t make the top 4?
THOUGH THE FIFTH: Poll!
Last week, nearly 70% of over 600 respondents thought City would finish the season second or better. I wonder if that changes this week (sobs)?
You know what to do.