I don’t go to Stoke matches anymore as it has always been a miserable, dour experience. And so it proved again.
The result is no disaster, as it is par for the course for any season with City (in the league at least), but the performance was another matter. Injuries abounded but the team City put out was easily good enough to win comfortably. Stoke had Jon Walters upfront and brought on Peter Crouch. We had the choice of Negredo or Dzeko with Aguero coming off the bench. No excuses.
The team selection raised a few eyebrows once more but whilst many changes were enforced, there seemed to be a desire to fight fire with fire. Fernandinho’s relegation to the bench is not a good sign for one of City’s costliest signings. Presumably Aguero’s late exit was due to a small injury, as he still made it onto the pitch eventually.
You could easily single out individuals after such a performance, but it may be better to look at the formation and system set up by Pellegrini, which once more left the team looking utterly disjointed. There are many players that look totally out of place over recent weeks. Yaya Toure looked lost, Rodwell ineffectual, Nasri anonymous, along with everyone else. To not muster a good chance all match is staggering.
This is a squad packed with attacking talent, yet much of the play, at least away from home, seems rather dull. The ball is not moved forward quickly enough, not helped by trying to fit players into a system rather than playing a system that suits the players. And yet City are the joint highest scorers in the league and have the best goal difference, but stats can be misleading.
Garcia and Kolarov did ok. Garcia in central defence is still not acceptable though, and I just don’t see why Lescott was dropped – Pellegrini clearly does not rate him at all, and the papers are full of rumours of a possible January exit, meaning a further excursion into the transfer market.
We need to talk about Gareth Barry. I think all City fans wish him the best, even if it is for Everton, and his excellent debut in darker blue will surprise few, but it will once more open the debate over why we let him go (the answer – money). But I don’t think he would have made any difference against Stoke. He links defence and midfield, but City’s problems lie across the park, and he’s not the answer to all our prayers, just like Nigel De Jong wasn’t after he left. Move on.
We can mention three clean sheets in four matches as a sign that things really aren’t that bad but City can thank the incompetence of the opposition for that. Stoke could and perhaps should have scored at least three goals, and Hull certainly should have had at least one. The clean sheets did not come from a solid back five, but more from the fact we played teams who won’t be troubling the top six this season mainly because they are not as clinical in front of goal as the top teams. I dread to think how much damage Van Persie or even Eto’o could do against this current defence.
Still, Joe Hart doesn’t have questions to answer for once, and that’s four clean sheets on the row for club and country. Not bad for a player seemingly suffering the worst form of his career.
Alan Hansen actually did some meaningful analysis on Match of the Day, pointing out City’s defensive frailties, though why he had to use an example from last season’s derby I have no idea. Hansen commented on City paying a fortune on forwards whilst neglecting the defence, but then the defence that has conceded the fewest goals for the past three seasons is intact bar the exit of a squad player in Kolo Toure, whilst the forward line lost Balotelli and Tevez this year. It’s hardly a surprise this is where the focus of our transfer spending lay.
Pellegrini out? The first pathetic whispers have begun. A small number of City fans need to take a good luck at themselves and stop acting like spoilt brats. We should be thankful for what we have, even during the rough spells. It’s fine to criticise, obviously, but be realistic.
You could argue City have missed opportunities or you could argue they have received a get out of jail free card, but either way there is no one team who has come out flying this season. Arsenal top the pile but lost at home to Aston Villa, United have of course lost at Liverpool, and Chelsea lost at Everton. It’s just unfortunate that City’s fixture list was probably the easiest of all the contenders.
And so to state the obvious, a big week lies ahead. I can keep making excuses for a new manager and new methods and the need to give him time, but two bad performances this week and even I might struggle to say anything positive. We have a great squad of players and I have no doubt a superb coach, but that coach needs to find a system that the players are comfortable with, and soon. He may have to adjust his principles to suit the players he has.
We must also pray that by next Sunday Vincent Kompany and David Silva are fit.
Finally, a hypothetical question: what if City are trying to build a whole new ethos from the management through to the youth team to all aspects of the club including a set playing style and approach to the beautiful game that set the club up for a generation but necessitated two or three years of upheaval and limited success. Would you take that? Or is instant success more important?
Of course it’s possible to transform the club’s methods and remain successful in the meantime. But every year the club goes through a huge transformation, and we must accept that it may at times be a bumpy ride, but the final destination is worth the odd bruise or two.