Warning: This article is more of me whining than actual tactical analysis. Like, seriously.
I am very upset. I thought I would be able to handle this better but I was wrong. I’m both mad and sad right now, and I don’t even know which one of the two I’d rather be. In my head, I had always told myself that the possibility of winning a quadruple was ludicrous and not to get my hopes up. But my heart said otherwise and this Manchester City team was so great that it certainly seemed realistic, especially with the Premier League all but wrapped up and the League Cup final looming. I knew it might not end perfectly, but I never thought the dream would die at the hands of Wigan Athletic.
Coming into this game, I don’t think you could find a City fan who was overly worried about losing. Worst-case scenario they draw and we have a replay at the Etihad, and up until the only goal of the game, that is exactly what I kept thinking. Even down a man, City dominated play and were actually finding their legs as the second half wore on. They were getting the ball into dangerous areas and looked poised to put one in the back of the net. And all we needed was one. I had already accepted that reality when it happened, and we all had to face the reality of this particular competition coming to an end.
I’m not entirely sure what Kyle Walker was thinking when he didn’t play that ball, I can only assume that he assumed John Stones was behind him to clean it up. But that simply cannot happen. Will Grigg had been sitting between Stones and Aymeric Laporte all game, even with the ball deep in Wigan’s own defensive half. The backline has to be wary of his presence and the backline has to be more aware and communicate better than that.
I really don’t mean to pile on these guys for making one mistake because that’ll happen to anyone, but it was just an incredibly frustrating and disappointing way to concede and cost this team the chance at four trophies.
We did get our first look at the Stones-Laporte partnership at center back and this excited many City fans as these two appear to be the pair for the future. These are players that fit Pep’s style and have the passing ability to influence the attack from deep. We didn’t see much of that from either in this game, though both made some nice diagonal switches out to the opposing flank.
I am little bit concerned about their defensive aggression, however. We saw Stones drop off a Wigan attacker early in the first half, allowing him to make a simple run and shot that hit the outside of the net when a somple tackle would have prevented this. We saw Laporte make a similar mistake against Leicester City on the Jamie Vardy goal. Both seem to still be unsure of their decision making and are hesitant to be aggressive in defense.
This popped up again within City’s press, which is well known for its ability to win the ball back as soon as it is lost. Fernandinho or the full-backs would crash forward to win the ball back immediately, forcing a rushed pass forward into midfield from the opponent. There appeared to be a few occasions where one of the center-backs had an opportunity to step forward and take charge of the loose balls but deferred to dropping back.
With Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany in the game, the backline feels like it has some extra bite that Laporte and Stones didn’t show in this game. The distance between Fernandinho and the central defenders seemed disproportionately large at times and this is something that other teams may be able to take advantage of.
All that being said, this was the first game these two have played together (and Laporte joined City three weeks ago), so it’s fair to say that I am nitpicking here. Stones and Laporte are both young, especially for a central defender’s learning curve, and have the ability to improve their performances together. Their chemistry will develop the more time they get on the pitch together and there’s obviously no one better than Pep Guardiola to coach them.
City’s attack in the second half lacked pace without Leroy Sané or Raheem Sterling on the field, a problem we have seen in the past. Not to mention, without Kevin De Bruyne on the pitch until about halfway through the second half, the Blues lacked a player who could play in accurate crosses with pace. When Kevin came on the field, the attack really picked up due to his ability to pass the ball into a small window with power, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to break down a Wigan team that sat deep.
I generally shy away from blaming the referee for results and I'm going to try to do that here as well. But, it’s hard for me to get a tad upset at what was, in my biased opinion, a questionable red card. And it’s not because it wasn’t a bad tackle by Fabian Delph, because it was, and in a vacuum I would normally understand the decision. However, the referees haven’t protected City players for literally the entire season, with horrid tackle after horrid tackle.
It just bothers me that this team hasn’t gotten the benefit of one opponent red card after numerous leg-breakers and then all the sudden the refs are going to play hard ball. I know this is a very petty thing to say, the past shouldn’t matter and every tackle should be judged independently. But I’m cranky and I’m just going to be petty for now. I’m mad at Fabian Delph too for doing that because there was absolutely no need to put himself in that position and now he’ll miss the League Cup final on top of it all.
I’M GOING TO BED, EVERYONE.