Date: 16th December 2016 at 1:46pm
Written by:

Tactical fouling – it’s a thing

It seems I wasn’t the only one tearing my hair out on Wednesday evening as the players deployed by Walter Mazzari employed some of the well-known dark arts of football intended only to stop the other team from playing their football. Nothing wrong you might say from stopping the opposition from having everything all their own way and I would agree – IF they stayed within the laws of the game and they are suitably penalised if they don’t. However as we witnessed at the Etihad in the ill-fated game against Chelsea, the unwillingness of the officials to properly and effectively enforce the rules of football can have a detrimental effect not only on the match and its outcome but it can also have a significant impact on individual players.

Against Chelsea I proposed in a previous ‘Things we learned’ that the fracas that marred the end of that game could be traced in a direct line to the decision of Anthony Taylor not to deal with Luiz’s obstruction of Sergio Aguero. The whole course of that game would have been altered and perhaps the frustrations of the City players might not have reached such proportions as the game reached its end. On Wednesday it was clear to me that the Watford players were sent out with specific instructions to commit fouls whenever City started approaching the halfway line. There were numerous occasions when City started to advance and threaten to make progress after regaining the ball that shirts were tugged and petty, game stopping fouls were committed in the City half. Not bad fouls per se but just enough to stop the game, delay City’s momentum and allow Watford to regain their defensive positions…and far enough away from Watford’s own penalty area that they would be unlikely to result in a yellow card. Pretty much the whole of the Watford forward line and midfield did their bit and even the defender Prodl, probably feeling left out, decided to have a go. In fact after having been booked for a late tackle when he went through the back of David Silva he ought to have walked for any number of subsequent clatterings he delivered near the halfway line.

Kevin Friend’s leniency and decision to overlook the persistent foul play was yet another example of weak and ineffectual refereeing IMO, one which in other times and at a stadium just outside Manchester would have had the Dark Lord apoplectic on the touchline, berating the fourth official and subsequently sounding off about the need for ‘players to be protected’. Now I cannot possibly say whether Ilkay Gundgoan may not have ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament at any other time – no one can. BUT I am quite satisfied in my own mind that had the referee taken a firmer stance on the petty lunges, manhandling and ankle tapping and general illegal contact that Watford indulged in and put some of the offenders on yellow cards then maybe, just maybe Amarabat may have decided that it would have been a bad decision to catch Gundogan illegally on the thigh and send him to the ground whereupon he collected his season ending injury.

Maybe, just maybe, the player’s career might not be threatened.

Maybe, just maybe if the referees decided to grow a pair City might just be able to get that bit of ‘luck’ which our season has so far been lacking…

The cutting edge is still missing

City’s win on Wednesday brought a sigh of relief within Planet Blue for sure – but that the final blood pressure lowering second goal came so late in the game and from City’s only shot on target in the second half is perhaps an indication that the cutting edge is still lacking. Sterling had a shot clip the bar and sail over after a mazy run and of course against Chelsea last week De Bruyne managed to steer his short range effort onto and over the same crossbar. Those chances are the ones which need to nestle in the back of the onion bag if City are to settle down and move on through the gears in games. 2-0 is just THAT bit more comfortable and cause the opposition to step just THAT bit further out of the comfort zone – you know, the one that says, ‘keep it tight and we may just nick that goal even in added time’. De Bruyne’s radar especially just seems to need a slight tweak – passes that were finding their targets unerringly last season are just suffering from the occasional lack of direction or being over hit; shots that were troubling the keeper last season are now not really working them or just squeezing wide of the post.

We need him to make the necessary adjustments and for Aguero to return fully restored and focused so that the cutting edge which can make the difference in this league of fine margins can be re-discovered before Chelsea stretch their lead too far.

When one door closes…

Ilkay Gundogan must be cursing his luck. Just as he was finding his feet in the team and the Premier League it seems he has suffered another season ending and potentially career threatening injury. Amarabat’s seemingly innocuous (although still illegal – see earlier) challenge has cost this talented young man several months of his footballing career as he faces operations and a prolonged period of rehabilitation.

But as he comes to terms with this blow and the door closes on his 2016/17 contribution to City’s drive for success, another opens for other members of the squad. Yaya Toure, so long on the periphery of Pep Guardiola’s thoughts has returned to the squad and with a level of fitness and application which might just see him slip into the Champion’s League squad when it is announced before midnight on 1st February 2017. Fabian Delph might also be looking at this situation and considering that after his own injury nightmare that he too has an opportunity to finally kick start a career at City which has stalled since his acrimonious move from Villa. Time to step up.

This is not a situation which will give anyone any pleasure and the thoughts of all City fans and his team mates are with Ilkay Gundogan as he begins his road to recovery – we wish him all the very best for a speedy return to full fitness.

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