Confused by the prematch revelation that with only 239 tackles in 15 games City are the 6th poorest tacklers in The Premier League, a fact completely at odds with Pep Guardiola’s ‘I want the ball back’ philosophy, this Blue worked hard mentally during the Watford game in an attempt to detatch myself from my blue tinted glasses. I wanted to form an overall neutral view of where Guardiola’s City are at.
Immersed in a decisive domestic month, my conclusions are, all things considered, especially in form and availability of personnel that we need to damage limitate into January and do it now. Whether or not a squad who have demonstrated regular unease defensively and only fired sporadically in attack since September under current tactics could handle a more safety first deployment is anybody’s guess.
My reasoning is based upon yet another game last night wherein City dominated possession but ultimately did not create enough clear cut chances to see a limited side off. Granted, it was heartening to see greater penalty box composure from The Blues but Silva’s calmly struck late goal was our only shot on target in the second half. That’s just not good enough. A further doom ladened fact is that but for Ighalo’s wild effort which was offered up by poor defensive judgement, City could have been looking at yet another 1-1 groundhog day in Manchester. Worse still, Pep has now lost another key player in the terribly unfortunate Gundogan on top of the plot losing losses of Aguero and Fernandinho. It is the combination of these issues, not least the poor quality of the side City were actually playing against who bullied our players off the ball frequently that lends me to believe that should we persist with an approach in attack that is not direct enough, we could enter January in trouble.
I thought Watford were rubbish. One of the worst sides we’ve seen all season, their uber-physicality and tendency to leave crafty ones and follow throughs in for most of their tackles exposed once again the pisspoor standard of Premier League refereeing. A series of repeat, thumping, mistimed tackles did not see yellow, yet the instant a City player went in hard out came Mr. Friend’s card. It’s almost as if the refs are under instruction to balance out these games as much as possible. So many decisions are scattergun and erratic. I also tend to agree with Andy Hinchcliffe’s initial assessment of the ‘coming together’ that could see Gundogan out for the season with a third major injury in recent years. I think Amrabat did him. Gundogan has been growing in stature and his loss is a terrible blow to this season’s ambitions.
All the above said, I thought there was no shortage of effort from City who grafted hard in the main. Sterling for me was the pick of the resurgent bunch followed by a ‘refreshed’ Toure. Beating Watford was massively important and Silva’s fine goal allied to a clean sheet at the back might yet forge a demon slaying exorcism that sees The Blues reinvigorated for the three games remaining that we face this month. On New Years Eve at Candlefield we will reach the season’s half way stage. It could also yet prove to be the case that Guardiola will be forced to field a more settled side through the aforementioned injuries and suspensions. Our 16th league encounter clocked up the City boss’s 55th starting XI change including his 27th defensively. I don’t think some of the side are playing regularly enough with each other. The most glaringly off message player right now looks to be Clichy. He has regressed to such an extent that in my opinion he shouldn’t even make the bench.
In conclusion, the relief is all consuming today but it has to be reigned in ahead of what will be a much sterner test on Sunday when Arsenal come to town.
Let’s try to build on this win, Pep. Tighten up, dispense with wholesale changes at least until the kid arrives from Brazil and Aguero returns from his midwinter break. Field the fiery Zabaleta regularly as captain. We must start the New Year as contenders. If that means sacrificing some of your principles then so be it.
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