Aston Villa 3 Manchester City 2: Some Thoughts

Date: 29th September 2013 at 9:21 am
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joehart

Oh for f**k’s sake.

I said after Sunday that the derby counted for little if we didn’t follow it up with a victory at Villa Park. And so it proved – the Manchester derby thrashing is a distant memory.

The team line up seemed fine to me, though I would have preferred Jovetic to Dzeko – when will he be given a proper chance? If this had been a home fixture, would he have chosen differently? More on that later.

And the woeful away form continues, but how on earth did City lose this one? You could write it off as a freak result, a one-off, if it didn’t happen with depressing regularity. 67% possession, 21 attempts on goal, 13 corners and a defeat.

But in a way it was a freak result. An offside goal, a wonderful free-kick (was it even a free-kick? Probably not), and horrendous defending from a goal-kick. At no point in the match were City on the back foot, yet they conceded three goals against a mid-table team missing their two 1st choice strikers. It is baffling that City could concede three goals in this match.
This was different from Cardiff and Stoke though in as much as City created, and they created chance after chance after chance. But as has happened before, wasteful finishing and that killer pass did for us once more. Pellegrini said as much, but his comment that “we played well” is somewhat undermined by the three goals conceded. But as he said – you must concentrate for the full 90 minutes, and City have this nasty habit, whoever the personnel, of turning off and paying for it. But at least over the past couple of weeks there has been a noticeable upturn in overall performances.

Nastastic is on slippery ground, and not performing to his full ability. Two fouls have led to free-kick goals for the opposition in the past six days, and he could easily have been sent off in both matches, though as mentioned, the free-kick conceded yesterday was a case of the referee being conned into a decision. It’s at times like this that you understand why Pellegrini wanted reinforcements. But hey, let’s not forget that Pepe is not very nice and Demichelis is way too slow, or so I’ve been told. On days like this, we could do with them.
But Nastastic is young, with his best years ahead of him – perhaps we have been guilty of bigging him up too soon, he is not the complete footballer (yet), and still has to develop further.

Though to be fair, regarding Pepe – if you watched the Madrid derby last night you’d not want him at City either – an Oscar-winning portrayal of a spoilt, petulant child from beginning to end.

Hart will predictably come in for stick, but Kompany was as more to blame for the third (but is untouchable), and the free-kick for the 2nd equalizer top-notch, even if he didn’t move. For that 3rd goal however he would surely have been better served staying close to his line, but it should never have got to that point anyway.

The Dzeko conundrum continues, along with the heated debates amongst City fans. Wasteful, average control, but another goal that should have calmed City’s nerves and seen them hold on for a victory. He’ll divide us all until the day he leaves. But I can’t say I ever feel overly-confident when he starts.And let’s be honest, his goal, off his back, was a fluke.

And as for Kolarov – well, he is just too limited for a top side. I said last week that Pellegrini may improve him, and he deserves some credit for his derby performance, and for staying at the club ( though his wages may have helped that decision), but he is a squad player and nothing more, and I pray he does not start against Bayern Munich. The fact he started against Villa suggests he won’t but it also suggests that Pellegrini is prioritising the Champions League over the much more winnable Premier League.

What is it with the disparity in home and away form? There have been studies on the topic, and still no one has really nailed the reason. City have  of course improved from the old days when they could go a whole season without experiencing the thrill of victory, but they have never truly shaken off the ability to under-perform away from home. I wish I had the answers but I don’t. Half of it must be in the head for managers and players alike, then there’s the crowd factor, the lack of familiarity in the routine for the away team, but it is not logical. There is no reason really for City or anyone else to play differently away from home, but it happens around the world, and has done since the dawn of the game (1992).

Having said all that, Arsenal have won their last 8 away league games.

And City show another anomaly when you look at the stats for the year. This is a team that racks up the clean sheets, hence Joe Hart’s repeated golden gloves awards, but when they concede, the floodgates tend to open, on average conceding 2.2 goals per game. This suggests to me a problem with mentality. The City of recent times do not cope well with conceding a goal and it makes an incorrect offside call all the more important.
It’s also a 2nd half problem – City barely concede in the first half in recent times, and haven’t yet this season. Only Norwich have bucked the trend since mid-March.

Naturally Pellegrini will take a large section of the blame for this defeat, but as I have said time and time again, the players have to take responsibility too, more than the manager in my opinion. It is their fault that the first half domination was not converted into a comfortable half-time lead, and it is their responsibility to remain mentally strong in the 2nd half. But they didn’t take their chances and their heads went in the second half.

Having said that, I felt Pellegrini’s substitutions left a lot to be desired, and handed the initiative back to Villa, to some extent. You can understand the Nasri substitution if he feared he was on the cusp of a red card having lost his cool somewhat in the 2nd half (with a referee who likes sending off City players), but if it was to rest him for Wednesday then it was a costly mistake. City had played a near-perfect hour in as much as they were ahead and had dominated, so is there really a need to make changes?

Naturally the glass-completely-empty brigade have come out of the woodwork again after a small nap proclaiming that we can’t win the league, Pellegrini is not good enough etc etc. But thankfully it’s far too early for anyone to be out of the title race, and it’s not too late for non-performing teams to turn it around, including (sadly) the club languishing in 12th place in the table.

Thankfully City have been helped by the fact this could be a tight league, and points are being dropped all over the place. Having said that, they are being dropped by other teams in tough encounters, whilst City have dropped 8 points in 3 very winnable away games, with all the tough away games to come. But typical City, they’ll probably go and win all of them. City are still in touch – only time will tell if Arsenal perform for the whole season, Spurs are in new territory and I’m not convinced they have a title campaign in them, whilst Chelsea have underwhelmed at times too. And as for United…..

This was the first time City and United have lost on the same day since 2008.

So the small matter of the European Champions coming to town. The team will look somewhat different of course, but the aforementioned necessity to concentrate for 90 minutes will never be more apt than in midweek. Yet again, a response is needed.

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