Where City Stand, Right Now
I’m lousy at creating a title for a piece.
I like to think I can write and analyze a little bit after watching a match but when it comes to titles, I’ll usually go with names of teams, score of game, and that’s it. Manchester City 3-0 Chelsea. That’s about as creative as I can get, I swear.
Yesterday (or the day before for those of you not on Los Angeles, CA time) I came up with a good title—or at least, I thought it was good. After Manchester City’s destruction of Chelsea, a beat-down so complete that by the end the difference in quality between the two sides could scarcely be more evident—it hit me.
City is a team that suffers narratives they scarcely control: all about money and not a lot of character. Lacking history. Something else about money. The players are individuals and not a team. And something else about money.
A month ago, with City struggling mightily, the narrative was that the announcement of Pep Guardiola as Manuel Pellegrini’s replacement—an announcement made by Pellegrini himself—was a distraction to the club. And there might’ve been some credence to it except City, as they have done in previous seasons, are now closing the season in very strong fashion. Consider:
- 2nd best current form in the Premier League behind Lucky Leicester (love the story, love the team but c’mon, the Foxes are blessed).
- Just two goals conceded in their last 6 league matches.
- According Michael Caley (who you should follow on Twitter when you’re not reading his stuff and you should really be reading his stuff) City are an 89% chance of finishing in the top four.
- Speaking of top four, after Arsenal’s latest version of outplaying a team for 90 minutes and still not winning, City are now in third.
- Sergio Aguero is playing his best football of the season. After Saturday’s hat trick, he’s got 21 league goals, one behind Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Leicester’s Jamie Vardy. He’s also played 900(!) fewer minutes than both.
- Oh yeah, City are in the semifinals of the Champions League.
They don’t seem all that distracted, do they? That was going to be the substance of my column. I even typed this opening sentence: "The ‘Pellegrini is leaving and it’s affecting the team negatively’ narrative can now be put to bed with the door closed. Turn out the lights, tuck it in and let it rest because the only legs it ever had was given to it by people assuming it was true.’
And then Pellegrini went and said this:
"It’s not easy for the players when you read in newspapers all the things that will happen next season, all the players who will go out, all the players that will come in. It’s not easy for the players to focus their mind. But this squad has a lot of character. We never give up."
Gee, I wonder what he’s talking about.
So okay. Guardiola has been a distraction. And in spite of it Manchester City is playing their best football of a crazily inconsistent, injury-filled season. I don’t know if they would’ve played better without the Guardiola announcement (again, one that Pellegrini himself made) and you don’t either. What I do know is that for the last four weeks, I’m comfortable with Manchester City playing against any team in the world. I’m not saying we’ll be favorites against anybody—we won’t be—but I am saying this team is gelling at the right time, in spite of all the ‘distractions.’ And as Pellegrini said in what seemed like a throwaway cliche: it speaks to the character of the players. It speaks well of it and them.
Notes on Crushing Chelsea
- After the match, Chelsea interim manager Gus Hiddink said in the nicest way possible, in wholly admirable demeanor, that his team has pretty much quit on the season.
- Obviously Aguero and De Bruyne , in that order, were the top performers. Here's a question: do City have the two best players in the league, right now? I think they do.
- I thought Zabaleta struggled and the hissy he threw after he was taken off was not a good look.
- Yaya was very effective which was good to see.
- Our most improved player award—do we even have one of those—would be given to Eliaquim Mangala. Is there room in his pocket for Diego Costa, what with Ibrahimovic already in there (thanks, I’m here all week)? Favorite moment of his came in the 8th minute: Baba Rahman all over Navas (one of Navas’ few bad moments, speaking of guys who played well), and Diego Costa drifts toward goal—still thirty or so yards out but he sees an opportunity; like the very good striker he is, he’s looking for the ball to go his way. Mangala, like the very good defender he has now become, is also watching and he moves upfield to put Costa in an offside position. Rahman pokes the ball away from Navas toward Costa who scores a goal that doesn’t count precisely because Mangala did what great defenders do: watched eight things happening at once (Otamendi was in between playing Costa offside, attacking Costa, or retreating) and Mangala responded accordingly. I’ll be very interested to see who plays with Vincent Kompany when the captain comes back. Both our defenders are playing very well. I just happen to think Mangala is playing a little better.
We haven’t asked this one in a while. You know what to do.