Pug Pips Pep’s Parade
I think it was the excellent Brian Reade, a writer whose columns I still read who once answered the question “So what is a City fan” by saying “he was the poor unfortunate who within an hour of being born had a blue and white rosette slapped on his chest and was sentenced to a lifetime of misery and underachievement”. And even in these modern times with the best coach in the world, City still have this ability to do precisely that.
I think Brian wrote that sometime in the nineties when there was a consistent trophy procession along Chester Road, destination Stretford, and City were in their yo-yo years, but this week that particular chicken has come home to roost…twice.
We saw on Wednesday that Guardiola, the Messiah of Manchester, did not set his team up correctly and it was punished, mortally, by Liverpool. So why, yesterday did he make precisely the same kind of offering to of all teams FC United of Stretford?
There were not many of the blue and white persuasion I spoke to yesterday who actually believe beating Liverpool by four clear goals is a possibility. What they did know, what they did want is for Guardiola to select his best available team and go for the Stretford jugular, but immediately we saw the line-up and half-past four, there was almost a communal groan in the Legends Lounge.
Deciding for whatever reason to de-select the season-long stalwart De Bruyne for a match of this magnitude was bad enough, but then to place Sterling as the falsest of false number nines looked like a bad joke, especially as Gundogan, who in some papers got 1 out of 10 for his lack of antics at Anfield, somehow found himself in the starting eleven.
So, no striker, and out of form chicken and no KDB was not exactly a recipe for what the Blues fans were hoping for yesterday. Mr Guardiola..the fans wanted you to pick your best team and win the title against United. End of story.
Ok in the first half it looked like the job was done. First Kompany and then of all people Gundogan clicked the scoreboard up to 2-0. But are they serious when they tell us that Sterling wants more money? Where was he when the United drawbridge opened up, not once, but twice for him and he fluffed his lines on both occasions?
The half time lead was satisfying for the City fans as they ridiculed Moaning Maureen with a song that I don’t like and that has clear racist overtones. But neither Pep, the team nor the fans were prepared for the second half reversal that sent City from Champs to chumps in the space of two minutes.
These two minutes showed once again the frailties of a City defence that lost its concentration, just as it did in midweek, and invited United to spoil the party. They didn’t need asking twice. Indeed, when the hitherto absent Pogba was asked, he accepted both invitations in a quick-fire double burst that stunned the Etihad.
The first was bad enough, but the second saw Otamendi wind back the clock to the harem-scarem type of defending that was his game last season. He allowed Sanchez to get the better of him before a far post cross was met by Pogba who had run from inside his own half. I was disappointed that Ederson did not save this one. Pogba could only have headed it in one place and the keeper should have read that.
The Stretford were now in the ascendancy and even with only 55 minutes on the clock, the Blues were getting the blues as they could regain control of the game and were getting penalised at every turn by Martin Atkinson who was allowing similar fouls meted out by the like of Herrera, Matic and Young go unpunished.
This was the time to change things, Mr Guardiola, not after another parting of the City defensive waves allowed United to become the first team to collect three points at the Etihad this season.
Great footballers affect games, we all agree to that, but to give them mission impossible when the game was lost was a poor policy. That said it did sit up for Sergigol and he should have levelled the score with a deft header. But unlike Ederson at the other end, De Gea’s anticipation was excellent and he shovelled it over the bar.
The matchwinner was another Otamendi nightmare. Heralded as City’s most improved player, just what was he doing wrestling with Jersey-tugger Smalling and them letting him go into free space for a free header? Leaving the space put Kompany, who did not excel in the second stanza, in an awkward position between the attackers and simply allowed Smalling a walk-on part.
So, it was not a brilliant day in Manchester. What started as a day of getting crowned Champions ended in an old-fashioned “typical City” day. I wrote a few weeks ago that our definition of “typical City” may now have been rewritten but this offering showed that the former definition is still out there.
With the quality of football that City have played this season, it is perhaps unthinkable that they could go on a four-match run of defeats, but as Guardiola messes about with the starting line-up that is precisely what we are staring at. Quite why City paraded their best available team against Everton and then two poorer starting teams against the divisions best opposition is almost bewildering, but Guardiola will pay the price for this unnecessary tinkering.
For a start, I cannot see Liverpool emulating last season’s Paris St Germain debacle. Klopp clearly took a weakened team across Stanley Park and sacrificed the match. Guardiola sacrificed the Premier League Title! If City actually win against Liverpool it will be considered a job reasonably well done. The best we can hope for, in reality, is to reverse the away score and get through on penalties. But can anyone see this defence stopping Liverpool from scoring? And can we see City getting five goals? We did once I hear you say, but they only had ten men and Klopp took off Salah!
Then we travel to Etihad South to face Spuds. Whereas Wembley is generally a happy hunting ground, Wigan apart, for City, this will not be an easy mission either, especially if Guardiola’s team selection is a dismal one.
In that case we have to win the title against a resurgent Swansea, whose manager has been nominated by Maureen as Manager of the Year. Well it won’t be you, Maureen.
Had City won yesterday and fail to get through to the Champions League semi-finals, Guardiola would have had the rest of the season to mix and match his team, rest players in readiness for the World Cup, send them on holidays, whatever. Now we have still to fight. If they fail to win at Wembley, the “gap” will have reduced to ten points and United will be dreaming of a Brendan Rodgers end to City’s season.
Get the job done, Pep. The Champions League can wait another season, especially if you sign your new contract.