THOUGHT THE FIRST: What Happened
Fourteen minutes into the 171st Manchester Derby, the battle lines were clearly drawn. City manager Manuel Pellegrini, as has been his wont since joining the blue side of Manchester, went for an attacking 4-2-3-1 with a front four of Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Jesus Navas and Raheem Sterling. It also appeared Silva was placed far upfield as a kind of makeshift center-forward. Pellegrini seemed to be going for an early knockout blow: send speedy wingers upfield to feed both Aguero and Silva, aided by his two most aggressive central midfielders. City had been criticized for slow starts for most of the season and Pellegrini’s chosen formation would certainly cure that. However, all that attack left some compromises in defense. To wit:
- United midfielder Michael Carrick was virtually uncontested in the middle of the pitch, setting up an attack that utilized United’s best strength—their speed. To counter this, either Aguero or Silva needed to harass Carrick and neither did, perhaps because they were told not to.
- It left City’s two central mids, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure, outnumbered in the center of the pitch. Additionally, if either Fernandinho or Toure went forward—and both really like to move forward—it would further expose City’s patchwork backline.
- Because of points 1 and 2 above, City’s backline would have to make some aggressive plays on charging attackers. This would’ve been fine with a healthy pair of Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi. But City had the backups—Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis. One of them was up to the task. The other one we're going to need to talk about.
It was a riskier system than I would’ve played. I would’ve gone in with three central mids and Bacary Sagna as a center back. To my thinking, Sagna had shown more than either Demichelis or Mangala this season. In either case, I thought it was crucial to have at least one central mid with the full-time job of protecting the back line and I wouldn’t have minded at all if that mid was named Fernando.
It should be said City played some pretty decent football for the first fourteen and half minutes, culminating in a shot on goal by Navas that rocketed off the leg of United keeper David De Gea. Not thirty seconds later, it all went to crap. An uncontested Carrick started an attack ahead of the two City central mids meaning the backline had to make a play. Unfortunately, one member of the backline provided all the defense of an open door.
THOUGHT THE SECOND: Martin’s Mayhem
As some of you know, I haven’t been a City fan for all that long. I decided to be a football fan in 2011 and I chose City after watching Sergio’s first game. And in that time, I’ve never seen a worse game by an individual City player than the one played by Martin Demichelis yesterday. It wasn’t just the goal given up where the Argentine showed all the mobility of a statue as Marcus Rashford waltzed by him. It was also what happened a mere few minutes later when City was very lucky not to give up a second, again because Demichelis was badly beaten. Were it not for Joe Hart’s Great Save Du Jour™ City would’ve been down further. Were it not for referee Michael Oliver’s generosity after a sloppy Demichelis tackle, United would’ve had a penalty just before halftime. And were it not for Pellegrini’s faith in his players, Demichelis might’ve been off at halftime. One reason why Pellegirni left him on had to have been Sterilng’s injury in minute 23 (he’s out a month) and the fact City had changed their system because of it: Fernando came on giving City three central mids and more protection for the back. Yaya was allowed to move forward. Pellegrini, I’m sure, thought he still had a healthy attack even without Sterling and wanted hold off making his second substitution. Unfortunately, he didn’t have to wait long.
Not eight minutes into half number two, an incredibly soft Demichelis back pass resulted in Hart sliding hard to save a goal. Hart was injured on the play (he’s out a month), Caballero had to come on for Hart and Demichelis, as was evident to one and all, had to come off the field, period. Fernandinho was placed at center back, perhaps for the first time in his career. Wilfried Bony came on as a second striker. City was playing their third system in under and hour, this time a 4-4-2.
Martin Demichelis will always have a place in the hearts of City fans because of this. But playing him another minute this season would appear to be an enormous risk.
THOUGHT THE THIRD: Random Stats and Thoughts
Player ratings are going to be ably taken care of by jcohen155 so Five Thoughts needs something else to do for thought number three. Welcome to random stats and thoughts.
- City outshot United 26 to 5.
- United had more shots on goal—4 to 3.
- City had 17 shots in the second half and only one on target.
- According to StatzZone, City and Arsenal are the only two teams this season to take over 20 shots from inside the box. City is the only team to take over 20 shots from inside the box and not score.
- I thought Wilfried Bony played well but the crowd I was with howled when he was brought on. Criticizing Bony for everything is a good way to avoid thinking about why a side with terrific attacking talent can’t currently score a goal unless you think Bony is the only reason why we can’t score.
- For a good cry, check out this tweet from the redoubtable Benjamin Pugsley. It’s been a sad, sad campaign.
- April brings back Samir Nasri and Kevin De Bruyne so we got that going for us. I’ve missed both and I’m not alone.
- The former Dean of these parts, Danny Pugsley, notes that Martin Demichelis has played over a thousand minutes this season, including 10(!) starts. He’s City’s fourth or fifth best center back, depending on who you ask. That tells everything one needs to know about City’s injury situation this year.
THOUGHT THE FOURTH: Scary Sentence
Based on form and strength of schedule, City are no better than even money to finish fourth.
THOUGHT THE FIFTH: Poll!
A question I never thought I'd be asking this season. You know what to do.