The games are coming thick and fast as the business end of City’s World Cup-interrupted season arrives. Arguably, it has affected them more than most given that they supplied the most players of any English club. But they are coping well in the circumstances.
They are not going to break the remarkable points, wins, goals records of recent, phenomenally successful, Pep seasons in which they have won nine competitions in six years. But they remain on track to win two or three trophies, nonetheless.
It’s an exciting prospect as that other club across town thinks all their Christmases have come at once having just collected their first and only trophy in seven years.
Piers Morgan tweeted as he watched the unsubtle and over-the-top Wembley celebrations: ‘Can’t believe I’m watching a Man Utd manager & players dancing with joy after winning the Carabao Cup … so embarrassing’
So what have City’s two games this week taught us ? Well, quite a lot actually. The hard-fought draw at Leipzig emphasised, yet again, that nothing can be taken for granted in the Champions League. Every match in the knock-out rounds is a final, and momentary lapses in concentration, like Ederson and Dias’ combined failure to stop Leipzig’s equaliser, can be fatal.
Pep played it safer than of late by naming his most experienced available back four in Walker, Akanji, Dias and Ake, rather than the more aggressive back-three of previous weeks.
The system still allowed the full-backs to move inside to support Rodri in midfield when in possession while giving a more solid look to the whole footballing machine. It’s a sign of things to come as they progress, hopefully, to the final. Stones and Laporte will add competition and steel to this back four line-up when they return to full fitness.
Three days later at Bournemouth, against less robust opposition, Pep reverted to a more aggressive back-three with the prodigal Rico Lewis switching seamlessly between right back and an old-fashioned right half role alongside the immaculate Rodri and just behind the continually magnificent Gundogan and Bernardo ( readers will have noticed by now my reluctance to call him Silva out of respect to the incomparable David Silva)
Meanwhile, Haaland’s all-round performance at Bournemouth highlighted a player who has much more to offer than just his stellar goal records. As with Grealish, it takes time to adapt to the most complex and gifted managerial demands on the planet. But it is undoubtedly coming. Grealish’s superb form in this his second season bodes well for Haaland’s future, too.
Also at Bournemouth, Phil Foden, the most technically gifted English player of his generation, displayed a remarkable return to form. He seems to have suffered most from post-World Cup blues and is now ready to put pressure on both the incomparable Grealish and the excellent Mahrez to keep competition for the two wing slots fiercer than ever.
And a mention for the hugely talented and eternally patient World Cup winner Alvarez who is now not just back up for Haaland but a real challenger for the number 10 role alongside him, providing an excellent alternative for De Bruyne who may need wrapping in cotton wool as the run-in intensifies.
Phillips still has a way to go to put pressure on the midfield and allow Rodri to rest occasionally. But there were signs at Bournemouth that he’s getting there while also perhaps providing an alternative to Gundogan and Bernardo, giving them more rest periods during this breakneck twice-a-week schedule by playing alongside and maybe just ahead of Rodri.
The gathering storm of Gundogan and Bernardo’s potential Summer departures remains the biggest single squad issue and, while Phillips finally coming through will ease that worry, only big signings like Bellingham and Maddison will properly compensate. That’s going to be hard now with the alleged offences hanging over the club. A conundrum, indeed.