Date: 15th December 2016 at 3:48pm
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Another evening of footballing boredom at the Etihad is starting to tell its own story, giving the Stretfords another opportunity to ridicule City’s support.

True we will have endured 4 home matches in quick succession ahead of the festivities, and truth be told, if you were going to miss one, Watford would have been the opponents of selection, but it was as though the football to be played in this match was to be too predictable.

Even without Fernandinho and Aguero, suspended, and Stones, do they call it rested these days, City should have been able to easily outplay the Hertfordshire Cloggers and maybe clock up a decent score. That said how can you legislate against a poor team, one of the worst I’ve ever seen, time wasting from minute one and literally kicking your players from minute two?

What we saw last night was another example of how poor refereeing allows opponents to systematically play through the back of your skilled footballers and finally, in the case of silky Ilkay Gundogan, render him out of action for the rest of the season. A team who played nine at the back, had only once chance all night, but only managed to acquire a pair of yellow cards. Whatever happened to persistent infringement of the laws of the game?

With City fielding Bravo again in goal, an announcement that receives the lukest of warm cheers from the faithful, this time a back four engaging the services of Zabaleta, Otamendi, Kolarov and Clichy, playing behind Gundogan and Yaya, De Bruyne, Silva and Sterling with the endeavouring Nolito playing as a false number nine, the stage was set for Dr Pepper’s latest experiment.

Yes, City moved the ball around the field well enough without really posing any kind of threat to the Hornets net and in the execution of this type of football were finding themselves getting caught in possession and then feeling the opposition studs down the back of their legs, knees and bumpsy-daisy. Silva, De Bruyne and Nolito’s ankles must have been black and blue. But the Blues lacked a spark. There was nothing to light the blue touchpaper to send the grades into the raptures they were enjoying two months ago.

Maybe they have forgotten what it feels like to watch a winning team at home. The astonishing performance against Barcelona is now hiding beyond a distant horizon. It seems forever ago since City panned Bournemouth 4-0 with, Barcelona apart, the last scintillating, goal-laden performance that had the pundits drooling and the betting companies thinking about paying-out. But as the bookmakers switch horses in favour of Chelsea, the Blues fortunes have foundered and on the current form of the top six, suggests they are more likely to be the ones who might suffer in the chase for a top floor place.

City had most of the possession throughout the match, as usual I suppose, but once again it was ineffective. Even in the first attack, De Bruyne got clear, didn’t move fast enough and lost the chance to send in Nolito unopposed. Nolito had to keep checking his run for fear of getting offside as De Bruyne’s lumbering run left him in a position where he made the wrong decision. It seemed for a while that both KDB and Sterling had an exclusive club of wrong-decision making. Time and again the City attacks came to nothing as they shot at goal or passed to an opponent at the wrong times, effectively killing off the approach work.

Yaya had a good game in midfield. He was intent on showing Guardiola that tackling is not yesteryear as he time and again won the ball in midfield to surely play himself into the manager’s thoughts when the Champions League squad is announced in the New Year, especially as Gundogan looks to have contributed his last for this campaign.

Prior to his execution and exit, Gundogan was playing well in front of the back line, winning the ball and moving it forward at pace only to find a late tackle awaiting him and those in front of him giving the ball away resulting in the type of groans that would have caused Jurgen Klopp to have a seizure.

But on the half hour City finally moved the ball quickly and accurately through the feet with all the midfielders involved as it found its way to De Bruyne out wide left. As Gundogan, Nolito, Silva and Sterling loaded the six yard box, the Belgian’s cross again looked wayward until Zabaleta popped up behind the last defender to volley it home.

Zaba’s goal celebration was one to behold as he went towards the fence pumping his arms and heart and showing the fans what the badge means to him. There was only just over half an hour on the clock, City were in front against terrible opposition. Time to get the show on the road. But it failed to happen. City played their predictable patterns without hurting Watford who looked happy to get to half time in arrears.

The second half got under way in similar style. By now Gundogan, who had been weighed in more than once or twice was en-route to the body scanner and his absence did not go unnoticed as Fernando replaced him to protect the back four leaving Yaya to push forward from midfield. The Ivorian put quite a shift in as he tried his runs of old, his passes of old and his tackles of very old to try to light the fuse for City. Sterling failed to take a chance on the hour and this seemed to have brought home to the Hornets that the time they had been happily wasting all night was in danger of running out.

City were still cumbersome and there was an untidy and unneeded foul by Captain Zabaleta. Watford didn’t profit from it, using a move that seemed to confuse their men and City managed to steer things away from their penalty area. It was clear that the long ball was going to be their ordnance so in came Troy Deeney to bash up the City back line and find a way to an equaliser.

When the chance came it was the former Malagueno Amrabat who tormented the City cover and curled in a dream cross in the direction of Ighalo who produced a miracle in the shape of a save from Bravo, pretty much the only thing he had to do in this match. I’m sure that last season Ighalo’s eyes would have lit up at the prospect of a chance like this, but for once Clownio endeared himself to the fans by actually stopping something.

This sparked a response from City. They were keen not to give away set piece opportunities for Deeney to cash in. Yaya was continuing to outperform in the middle and it was what would have been a lost cause for him last year that produced the breakthrough that enabled us to breathe and indeed sleep easier last night. A robust tackle (take note dear Pep) on half way saw Yaya win the ball, spring up and set Silva off in the inside left slot. An intelligent run by Sterling split the defender and Silva passed it out to him on the wide left. Sterling now had Silva and Yaya to his right and a possible shot on at the near post. At last he made the right decision as he played it back into the path of Silva who for once didn’t try to change feet twice, and slammed it home.

This was effectively it for Watford. They showed no urgency to get back into the game and under the scruples of damage limitation, at least in a scoring sense, they saw out the 2-0 deficit. It says it all really.

There will be no drooling or eulogising about this City performance except to say that with Arsenal up next, they really needed this victory. Over the last couple of seasons the Blues have not fared well against the title contenders, Stretfords apart of course, and I have to say, I do not much fancy our chances on Sunday.

Guardiola must go with a back four against the Gooners and not leave Walcott and Fish Eyes free runs from midfield into the danger areas. Someone will also need to keep a tight rein on Sanchez whose free role across the front line creates problems for everyone. There is only really Fernando and Yaya who can fill the midfield challenging roles so it will be important for those further ahead to defend from the front.

All the results favoured the top six last night, especially the Stretfords who seemed to get some favouritism from referee Craig Pawson last night. If that was not the easiest red card challenge one has ever seen what is? It is not a new law, it was in existence many, many years ago.

Sue
‘s Scousers seem to have got themselves back on track. Unlike Guardiola, Klopp did sacrifice his below-average performing net minder by posting Mignolet between the pipes. His result, courtesy of Lallana, was an easy 3-0 victory at Middlesbrough. Apparently Lallana was exceptional so Sue joined in with the Talk Rubbish pundits in eulogising about the midfielder who has added a goalscoring touch to his under-appreciated game.

The only beneficiaries of the midweek round of fixtures were Chelsea, who won once again and with Arsenal waving the points bye-bye at Goodison on Tuesday, they stretched their lead at the top to two matches. They are looking ominous. In typical Italian style they keep you out early on, score against you and then keep you out again. They can hold on to a 1-0 lead.

So going forward we look forward to praying for an Arsenal Ashburton Grove Bottling Factory performance of Goodison proportions, if City are to make us believe they can keep up a challenge for the title. Chelsea’s run will come to an end one day and maybe it will spark a three-match wobble. That is when everyone else will have to be ready. Guardiola take note.

 
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