Date: 7th December 2016 at 1:22pm
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City signed off their Champions League group stage campaign with a sad-looking 1-1 draw against Glasgow’s finest at the Etihad last night, in front of a 50000 – plus audience, not bad for a “dead rubber”.

But it could have been a very different story had late replacement Leigh Griffiths, a goals machine in the SPL, not failed to accept a couple of gifts towards the end, one of which was gratefully pushed aside by Caballero.

Guardiola, in need of a win at home, fielded what can best be called an experimental eleven restoring Caballero between the sticks, Maffeo, Sagna, Adarabioyo and Clichy providing a three-from-four back line, Fernando replacing Fernandinho with Zabaleta, Sane, Gundogan and Nolito behind Iheanacho.

And the Blues got off to the kind of start they just didn’t want. Another goalkeeping howler enabled Blues homeboy Patrick Roberts to put Celtic ahead after only four minutes. This created a laugh-a-minute feel that only City could allow someone to go out on loan and then allow them to play against his host club? and then score. City have no control of UEFA matches, so Roberts was a legitimate inclusion for Brendan Rodgers and he didn’t stand on ceremony.

It looked for all the world that City were to be in for another of those nights until a few minutes later Iheanacho powered in from the inside left channel and blasted a rising shot past Gordon and into the Celtic net to silence the Glaswegian hordes, I was going to say in the South East corner, but in effect they were all over the Etihad last night having obtained tickets easily, but not always by recommended means. Indeed, the Pedmachine understands that at the recent Scottish Cup Final at Hampden, touts from Manchester and Liverpool were doing a roaring trade moving on tickets in home sections to Celtic fans and delivering a safety and security nightmare.

Was the game going to take on the style of the corresponding match at Parkhead, or would City now get on the front foot and finally get ahead? Once again there was the feeling that if City could get in front, then they might run away with things, but truth be told, they, once again, didn’t look capable of achieving that.

Hardly ever did they use the pace of Sane, who had shown glimpses of being able to beat people more or less at will before stopping and passing pack to someone like Fernando and handing the initiative back to Celtic. The Celtic back line, minus Kolo who was given bench time, got to grips with Iheanacho who was systematically tested and not always within the laws of the game by Sviatchenko.

It was pretty much a stop, start effort by City, who looked threatening one minute and another nightmare the next. Maffeo was a positive, raiding down the right and doing his stint in defence, before becoming the victim of Guardiola’s only replacement on the hour when Navas was introduced.

Navas did make a difference for a while, setting up the winner for Nolito, only for a late flag to appear for offside. It was a shame, this was a long-distance one-two that actually worked and a 2-1 win would have been very welcome as far as the City faithful were concerned and would have effectively closed the mouths of the green-and-whites stadium-wide.

It was not to be and it was to prove to be City’s final clean-cut effort with the emphasis returning to the goal minded by Willy Caballero and the two glaring misses by substitute Griffiths. In amongst this were two more glimpses from Sane. One was a freekick which curled just outside the post and the second was a livewire sprint finishing with the ball in the North Stand.

The game drifted to an inevitable 1-1 draw, the most popular scoreline at the Etihad this season and another feeling of underachievement by a City side that should have been more capable of delivering a win, but once again the Blues disappointed.

On the plus side there was the inclusion of Maffeo and Adarabioyo. I’ve mentioned Maffeo’s efforts down the right and his defensive tackling was pretty good. I’ve always liked the look of Adarabioyo in the centres. He is an accomplished young player, unfazed by who is against him and gives me the sense of security I don’t feel with Otamendi, Kolarov or, at times, Stones. Guardiola may be thinking of busting the bank for a more suitable companion to Stones but I think he is missing a trick by continuing to ignore Tosin, as indeed he is by his random selection of Maffeo who looks quite solid, but in need of a step-up in fitness levels. Yes you can say “It was only Celtic”, but, hey we’ve played “Only Everton, only Southampton, only Crystal Palace and only Burnley” with the Guardiola assortment and looked exceedingly shaky. Adarabioyo can’t do any worse than whoever performed or otherwise in those matches.

And what of Roberts? Another young talent not really given a look-in by either Pellegrini or Guardiola. He looks capable of achieving more. He certainly found Caballero wanting for his early goal and provided a wide-out threat for a lot of this match.

After the goal, Caballero put in a bit more of a shift, keeping out everything Celtic had to offer and giving the Blue faithful the feel of security that Bravo doesn’t. No doubt the Clown Prince will be restored to allow Vardy the chance to break his goalscoring duck at the weekend. City will not win anything with him as first-choice net minder. With Otamendi missing, I doubt Guardiola will risk Adarabioyo. If not I would play Sagna in one of those defensive three roles, probably alongside Stones and Kolarov. I would give Maffeo the free role instead of Clichy who singularly fails to impress me.

Because he scored, it can be said that Iheanacho did his stuff, but he found himself outnumbered and battered for the rest of the match, unable to get free again and plunder a winner. Still, he will have plenty of chances to deliver in the Barclays Premier League with Aguero now confined to barracks for a month.

Fernando, too, was a positive. Again, he knows he’s in with a chance in the next month as Fernandinho sits out his suspension. Yaya will throw in his hat, no doubt.

It will be interesting to see if Nolito can provide the support cast or even the false number 9 when the league matches resume on Saturday. Both he and Iheanacho found themselves offside far too often last night, effectively depriving City of a win and no doubt those robust kickers that masquerade as defenders for Leicester will be sharpening their studs in anticipation.

However it pans out, City are in the UCL knock-out hat even if only to give the UEFA hot-ballers the chance to draw them out against the likes of Atletico de Madrid of the Inclusives of Nyon’s hunting list.

There is still the feeling around what is once again becoming Sandcastle Etihad, that City need to get themselves back on the rails. Since their 3-3 draw with Celtic, the Barcelona win apart, the Blues haven’t really looked at the races. When they’ve outplayed teams, they’ve failed to nail the match. In the rest of the month they face title contenders in the shape of Liverpool, themselves going through a sticky patch but looking irresistible at Anfield, although Susan will give you a different account.

Arsenal are next on the Etihad horizon after the visit of Watford, so it makes life tricky for a team shorn of its prize assets. The Blues have looked lightweight all season relying solely on Aguero up front. It is inevitable that he will go through a relatively barren patch by his standards and Guardiola simply didn’t get us prepared for an extended Aguero absence. With Sanchez holding out for better pay he has limited his options to either City, the Banco de Espana or even China. I can’t see the Ashburton Grove Bottling Factory coughing up the level of loot he is seeking so it looks as though, once again they will take on the guise of City’s London-based Elite Development Squad as Sanchez finally persuades his wife there is life beyond London, especially with a quarter of a million a week landing through the letter box.

As the Pedmachine heads for France on his pre-Christmas wine run with Sue, he will no doubt be tucking in to a bucket of mussels by the time the Leicester match starts, so the next Ped Report may be a little late. I really hope that the next couple of times I go to press, I’m reporting on wins.

 
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