Joyeux Noel, Planet Blue! Three more crucial ‘pressure points’ are in Pep Guardiola’s tactical briefcase this Christmas after another top of the league ‘catch up’ fixture at rock bottom Hull followed wins earlier in the day for key Premier League title contenders.
Furthermore, a 3rd domestic win on the bounce for the first time since September has been secured along with a 4th clean sheet of the campaign. But for the downright abberation that was the kamikaze performance at Leicester which hacks and pundits clearly called wrongly as the champions resurgence, City could have secured more than the 9 points from 12 that have been won during Kun Aguero’s second suspension of the season.
These are heartening statistics but I would urge absolute caution over how today’s victory came about.
I think that the astute Guardiola is gradually getting it right in the Premier League. There is no doubt that the aforementioned ludicrous defeat at Leicester was handed to them on a plate with the fielding of a three man backline. The lesson finally learned, El Boss has gone flat back four to the tune of three wins that have conceded only one goal. The rot at the back had to stop with us conceding almost twice as many goals as an imperious Chelsea have, but for me we are still riding our luck too much back there. Nobody can deny that Sagna’s goal-line clearance from a Bravo howler was today’s turning point. It allowed the tireless running of City’s midfielders to maintain the persistence that saw the win through. We are also giving away far too many dangerous free kicks with challenges that are not only naiive, they are borderline brainless. Sure, we have shored up better this month but against the type of livewire forward lines that we are about to face at Candlefield, it is scattergun poor individual thinking that is playing with fire. Despite Pep’s denials, I still think we need to bring in at least one top quality defensive recruitment next month. Stones’ injury in the North East early on in this game emphasised the fact.
Pep’s defensive tactics by his own confession ‘have been looked at’ as he gets to know the English game and the capability of his defenders that I have just slated. But maybe from his experience of playing 45 minutes against the bottom of the league with nobody up top for his relentlessly dominant midfielders to play into at pace might mean that he will be more than relieved to see Aguero swagger out on Merseyside for English football’s TV dictated New Years Eve.
Pep can’t surely continue to be so reticent in giving Iheanacho the starting nod. The kid has made 50 mainly bit part appearances for the Blues and has netted 20 times. That has to be worth increased game time. Until his introduction much of City’s play in the final third of this game was for my mind made to look worse than it actually was without a recognised striker and I couldn’t help but get the feeling that overall we’d made too much of a meal of this contest.
The longer the stalemate dragged on, the more the situation called for experience and a cool head. Enter Yaya Toure. A man who feels no pressure. The longer the likes of Sterling play around the resurgent Ivorian giant, the more canny and savvy they will get.
Ras deployed his lightning pace today to win the penalty that Toure converted with ice cool aplomb. – Is there anyone quicker over 5 yards from a standing start than City’s number 7? Let’s hope he maintains the focus he has rediscovered when a foaming Liverpool support lose their own focus again on Saturday night. –
For Toure, it is immensely satisfying to see him sieze the opportunity to re-engrave his name in Manchester City legend history. Credit has to go to Guardiola’s throwing down of the gauntlet to him. Right now, outside of Silva who today completed his 61st Premier League assist (more than any other player in the competition since he arrived in England) and the brilliant De Bruyne, Toure for me is the man who could yet have a massive say in where the title ends up. City’s old guard love to hunt down league leaders and it could be that the big man has the thrill of the chase in his senses again.
In conclusion, this was a hard fought win if unneccessarily so and a triumph for perseverance. But I am not going to let it go without praising a referee for once in these cyber pages!
I thought Robert Madley had a great game. Already much has been made of the erratic Craig Pawson’s allocation for Saturday night and rightly so. He could do with watching Madley’s officiating at Hull for his own lesson’s learned process.
Next stop, Jurgen Klopp.
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