Manchester City suffered a damaging result on Saturday at Upton Park, falling to a 2-1 defeat to the in-form West Ham. Unquestionably, this was a poor result and in the immediate aftermath Blues fans took to social media to share some knee jerk reactions.
These ranged from quite sensible attempts to analyse what had gone wrong (whether the analysis was fair or not is not the point – it’s just a far better way of looking at things than flying off the chain) to declaring the title race over. Some more extreme and, in my opinion, downright absurd comments were even calling for a change of manager.
There appear to be two separate strands to the dismay and dejection many felt after yesterday’s defeat. One is looking at the smaller picture and one is very much a concern at how the big picture is looking.
Issue 1 – The performance v West Ham was not okay
Bob Toole has already written an excellent analysis of the game for this site so I don’t want to repeat too much of what was said there, but clearly we saw a City team playing significantly below it’s best level.
Pellegrini was a target for a lot of the criticism, not unfairly. City were overrun in midifield for too long and the manager didn’t react quickly enough. When he did, by replacing the disappointing Edin Džeko with Stevan Jovetic, City instantly improved beyond recognition. Following comments on Twitter, it felt like everybody could see a change was needed. Those comments can sometimes seem of more volume than they actually are but there was definitely a consensus on what the problem was. Now, I trust Pellegrini to know more than most fans but it was mystifying that he took so long to correct a glaringly obvious problem.
When you add that to the fact that he was also perceived as failing to correct a similar midfield issue against AS Roma and CSKA Moscow, you can see why supporters get frustrated. It’s fine to make mistakes, but to keep repeating them is a tad worrying.
For a more rounded view of the defeat, I heartily recommend you go to Bob’s piece here (but after you’ve finished this one please – it’d be rude to leave me now) –
Issue 2 – The fear of Chelsea
You may accuse of me of misremembering last season and you might be right, but it strikes me that in this campaign, every dropped point is seen as being more crucial than it was last year. Chelsea have long been seen as City’s biggest challenger this season and their early form has been very impressive.
I think that their start is skewing perception of what City are doing. Although the Blues have taken two unexpected defeats, their results haven’t been that bad. I mean this as no criticism of Chelsea because they are doing fantastically well, but City have objectively had the tougher opening games. Chelsea’s one truly testing fixture came at The Etihad where they squandered a lead against a City team with ten men. Although they won’t have been too disappointed with that point overall, it does suggest that they are not without flaws.
At the time of writing, Jose Mourinho’s side have a five point lead over City, though by the time you read this that may have been extended to eight points depending on their result at Old Trafford.
This deficit has caused many City fans to hit the panic button, but there really is no need. Personally I am hitting the ‘slightly concerned’ button instead. Clearly, if you have serious aspirations of winning the league you can’t maintain a deficit for too long, nor can it become so vast that it is insurmountable. Maybe I am being too optimistic, but I believe we are some way from seeing a gap that can’t be clawed back.
Some have already started comparing this campaign to the title defence of 2012/13 which is, at best, misguided. In that season City didn’t lose until December but still finished 11 points off the pace. In our two recent Premier League successes we’ve seen twists and turns in the final six games that almost defied believe, so there is no real reason to believe that this season’s attempt to finish top of the pile has already hit terminal decline after just eight games. At this stage last time round City had just secured their first away of the season.
What is for certain though is that we are at the point where the Blues need to string a strong run of form together. Last year, after the customary 1-0 defeat away to Sunderland there was a worry that City had already slipped too far behind the leading pack to pull it back. What followed was a run of 12 games from where City won 11 and drew one. To keep the pressure on Chelsea, we will need to see a similar run again.
Given that we’ve seen it before and we have evidence that Pellegrini is adept at curing ills, there is no reason to believe that City are out of the title race. Chelsea will drop points – that is absolutely without doubt. The trick for City is being there to take advantage when they do. I maintain absolute faith that they will be.
written by Richard Burns