Date: 23rd October 2016 at 8:24am
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After the chastening experience in the Nou Camp on Wednesday evening, City return to home comforts this Sunday when they face Claude Puel’s improving Saints.

Another manager acclimatising to the Premier League, Puel made nearly 500 appearances for Monaco he moved into management at the club where he secured the title for them in his first season. He followed this up with two further league titles before moving on to manage Lille, Lyon and then most recently Nice. He has a reputation for developing young players and certainly seems to be adapting to the Premier League. After failing to secure a win in their first four games they went on to win four games in a row and after a narrow defeat away in the San Siro in the Europa League on Thursday they will be looking to bounce back against a wounded and vulnerable City.

Before conceding against Burnley in the league last weekend their defence had not breached in the six fixtures they played since their defeat by Arsenal on 10th September. Would that City could boast such defensive solidarity. Guardiola’s team haven’t kept a clean sheet since the defeat of Bournemouth on that sunny afternoon in mid-September. A worrying trend and one which needs to be arrested not only sharply but with some conviction this coming Sunday coupled with a rediscovery of the goal scoring form which set them off on such a blistering run at the start of the season.

Despite going toe-to-toe against Barcelona in the Champions League, their concession of four goals and their contribution to their own downfall through a series of individual errors risks the erosion of confidence both individually and collectively. Whilst the scoreline fails to genuinely reflect the match, nevertheless history will record a beating and the failure of the team to get through the game win all eleven players on the park. If ever there was a time to ‘get back on the horse’ and deliver a thumping victory then THIS is it. With the ‘bonus’ derby in the EFL Cup looming next week the players and fans will be looking for a much needed morale boosting win.

Guardiola has pulled a couple of ‘rabbits’ out of his team selection Sorting Hat in the last two fixtures starting with the Everton game where he opted for a back three and forwards as wing backs and then again against Barcelona where he started without a recognised out-and-out striker. The latter approach was bound to be more controversial and clearly opened the gate to the more shallow commentator types (yes, Steve McPointalot I am talking about you) as the reason for City’s defeat in the Nou Camp. Not for them the nuances of what Guardiola was trying (& for the most part, slips by players notwithstanding, achieving) to do. No, they simply point out that had Agüero been playing he would have gotten on the end of some of say De Bruyne’s first half cut backs…whilst conveniently ignoring the possibility that he might have been stood exactly where, say, David Silva was for one of them. Ah the benefit of hindsight eh?

However, there is an wee thought in the back of my mind that Guardiola, who has already hinted to Agüero that he can and needs to improve, was also being sent a not so subtle message – the are NO passengers in a Guardiola side. None. Doesn’t matter who you are. Two games in a row now that City’s star striker has begun matches on the bench after he had declared himself fit for his country despite nursing a calf injury. Agüero has form for this especially when Messi is absent for Argentina. ‘But when they call you for the national team, you want to play at any cost. That’s how it is’ he has been quoted as saying recently.

Desperate to take over the No 10 role for his country Sergio played against Ecuador a year ago despite having been substituted by Pellegrini in City’s preceding league fixture against Newcastle knowing that he was nursing an injury.

Messi’s absence in that game was too good an opportunity for Sergio to pass up then and I suspect the same situation applied when Argentina played Peru which Messi was injured (sic) again. Guardiola wants his players to play to the best of their ability, to work hard for the team and be perhaps above all be honest with themselves and him. He will forgive players who try but can’t achieve what he wants but he is pretty unforgiving no matter who you are if you don’t match his standards and thus includes, I suspect, being honest with yourself and not risking exacerbating an injury by playing when you are not 100% fit.

Guardiola’s game plan requires a high work rate and if you can’t be relied upon to deliver that because you are nursing an avoidable injury then he won`t hesitate in showing you that you are not indispensable. Anyway. It was just a thought.

I think Agüero is one of the best players to ever pull on a sky blue shirt. He is up there amongst the brightest and best City legends, a pantheon of stars which includes Bell, Lee, Summerbee, Eric Brook, Trautman, Jamie Pollock (just joking with that last one & seeing if anyone was still reading)…

…a hero who will forever be remembered for THAT goal against QPR. But Guardiola takes no prisoners in his search for footballing perfection and Agüero is perhaps being shown that he cannot assume his place in the team is sacrosanct.

Having said all that I expect him to start against Southampton but how Pep will set his side up behind him will be a mystery to me until 12.30 on Sunday afternoon.

That City need reinforcements in the full back area was apparent to many City fans who were surprised that no action was taken to address the ageing defensive flanks during the summer. I suspect that this was down to the pragmatic view that changing more than four players in one transfer window is not generally regarded as good practice, introducing too much disruption and instability. The focus was on strengthening flexible attacking options and maintaining the defensive unit already undermined by the frequent absences of Kompany and Otamendi’s ‘settling in period’ – the minor ‘tweak’ of Stones was the only change. But now we face the reality that Kolarov’s renaissance appears to have been an ephemeral ghost, a false dawn and with Sagna injured, Zabaleta a major doubt for the weekend and with them all (including Clichy) being the wrong side of 30 this area increasingly looks like becoming City’s defensive Achilles Heel. Will Pep turn to the young blood of Maffeo and Angelino in the coming fixtures injecting fresh impetus and the possibility of sowing doubt into the minds of opponents with these unknown quantities?

After the Barcelona defeat Pep declared publicly that he will not abandon his style of play and reinforced his reputation as a man of conviction and so it behoves City fans to be reminded of his words when he took over at Barcelona in 2008 when he told them to ‘Buckle up. We’re going to have fun’. His belief in his coaching philosophy and determination to stick to his principles will mean that Blues may face a few more heart stopping moments in a roller coaster season as he gets the measure of the resources at his disposal.

Never a dull moment being a City fan. So – settle for a dull, pragmatic 1-0 home victory this weekend? Or are we going to see the team turn on the style and react like a wounded animal to deliver a scintillating victory? I know which I would prefer. Bring on the style.

Come On City!!!

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