Manchester City: A Review of October 2014

In Typical City tradition, Bob Toole and Ciaran Murray have got together to review the previous month. In our October review we discuss CSKA, the Champions League, James Milner, Spurs and much more…

Bob Toole: October has been an underwhelming month for City after picking up two wins, a draw and two defeats. There is a palpable sense of frustration amongst the fans after Wednesday night’s defeat to Newcastle punctuated a poor end to the month. Before we get bogged down trying to figure out where it has gone wrong are you able to glean any highlights from the month?

Ciaran Murray: In the months that we’ve been doing these reviews, that’s by far the most difficult question you’ve asked me. I’d love to just write, “NO. NEXT!” and move on to dissecting how disappointingly frustrating it’s been.

Plenty of time for that later I guess…

I suppose a diamond in the rough month of October could be the Spurs game. A 4-1 victory over a team challenging for top four has to be acknowledged and it was a really entertaining game to be at. I’d been thinking that, for all Aguero’s talents and world class attributes, I’d love to see him pop up with a hat-trick or something instead of single goals in games. This was that game where he stepped up. What a player he can be on his day. To think that he missed a penalty and had brilliant shots saved by Lloris that day, too. He’s incredible. I’m sort of disappointed he’s not been able to kick on from that game but I’m not going to pin any blame on our Kun for recent poor results.

Other highlights? Erm… Milner seems to be getting in the team fairly regularly which is great to see and should help him put pen to paper on a new contract. Yaya scored in the league which was excellent to see after such a shaky start to his season – although again, hasn’t really kicked on from there. John Guidetti has 8 goals in 8 games for Celtic too… and the fact that I’m bringing that in as a highlight really shows the sort of month City have just had. Glad it’s over.

I think you’ve got a much easier task. City have had poor results in Europe, in the Premier League and, most recently, we’ve been dumped out of the League Cup as holders. Looking at this current run of poor form, what’s been the worst you’ve felt? Are experiencing a major crisis or a few minor setbacks? And can you put your finger on where exactly City have been going so wrong?

“Heaven knows I’m miserable now”

Bob: I think the worst I have felt is after the West Ham game purely because we didn’t turn up for an hour. We offered nothing to that game until Jovetic was brought on in the second half and by then the damage had been done. It was immensely frustrating to see the 4-4-2 deployed against a West Ham side who have been in good form and revitalised by their summer signings. Our formation played into their hands and after the horror show in Moscow, where the same formation was arguably culpable for us dropping two points, it boggles the mind to think that we would be OK using that formation away from home, against an in form, attacking team.

That said, I don’t want it to come across that I think the formation is the sum of all our current woes because it isn’t. There seems to be something lacking in the players as a collective. No one player has been particularly bad (they all have) but it feels as if they are bereft of any confidence and ideas. Frankly, Pellegrini could play any formation at the moment and it probably wouldn’t make much difference if the players apply themselves like that have in their last two outings. There is a real air of complacency to such an extent that sloppy passing is a feature of our game. I think it has been that way all season but it is only now where we are really getting found out for it. 

I think it would be silly to label our current form as a crisis as it has only been three games where we have really come unstuck. It is worrying though as there doesn’t appear to be any logical explanation for our dip in form. More and more I see parallels between this season and Mancini’s last season where we were also defending the Premier League title: we never seem to get going and every potential upturn in fortune is a false dawn.

One of the outstanding players of the month has to have been David Silva, in my opinion. He scored that wonder goal against West Ham and more or less dragged City over the line against Villa. What have you made of him this month? Do you think there is a danger that City are becoming over reliant on him?

Ciaran: I’m not a big fan of player nicknames (Beeeeast!) but ‘Merlin’ suits David Silva perfectly. He is an absolute magician with the ball at his feet. I feel blessed and privileged to have him play for our club; he’s our best player.

It surprised me that Match of the Day overlooked Silva’s performance against the Villa, instead opting to go down the “City were sloppy” route with their analysis. Match of the Day 2, however, somehow contrived to squeeze a little segment in about him.  He ruled that game. He was everywhere and they couldn’t touch him. He’s the kind of player you’d want to play alongside. If you pick up the ball and are looking for someone to pass to, there he is, in space, wanting to take the ball from you in order to do something brilliantly creative with it. The vision he has to pick out a pass; the footballing intelligence to angle and weigh up where his teammate will be and then skill to execute the pass itself. It’s just sublime.

But yeah, I do think City have become over reliant on him. When I saw the team news for Newcastle I kind of had to check twice because I was really surprised Silva started. If he misses the Derby because of the injury sustained in that game it will seriously be to United’s benefit (my god remember that pass to Džeko?).

You know in The Apprentice where no one wants to step up to be Project Manager and they’re all afraid of standing up and leading the team? And they look round awkwardly not wanting to take responsibility. Then someone finally decides they’ve got the balls to do it and steps up to it? That was Silva’s goal against West Ham: “Right well if none of you are gonna do it I guess I’ll have to step up and do it myself…THWACK!” I reckon that’s his best goal for City. That or the Blackpool one or maybe Hull. All goals in adverse situations where he’s just decided enough is enough – I’m going for it here. Ironically, despite discussing a number of his goals, I still wish he’d shoot more. Hopefully his little wizardy legs will be magically repaired by Sunday. Then he needs a rest.

I mentioned James Milner earlier. I think he’s having a fantastic season even if others around him aren’t. There’s a worry over his contract and whether he wants to commit himself to City for the long term. Do you think he’ll sign on the dotted line? What is it about the Yorkshireman that has City fans hoping he’ll extend his stay at the Club?

Bob: You’re right, Milner is having a fantastic season but it is a worry that he hasn’t signed a new deal yet. You can’t really argue with his assessment that he needs to play more regularly and since he has worked his way into the side he has been excellent and has barely missed a game. You’d have to say on current form he has got be one of the first names of the team sheet. 

It still mystifies me how some observers don’t think he is very good. That said, they are mainly people who just watch England. Aside from his well documented work rate there is a very skilful player behind all that. The number of little flicks he does here and there and his willingness to run at and turn and twist around full backs is a real attacking threat. He may not be the quickest player but his skill compensates for that. The fact that he can play in about four positions is also a bonus. It’s a shame for him that he invariably gets played on the wings as he has said many times that central midfield is his favoured position. In spite of that, he gets on with it and never grumbles which is great to see. And what about his link up play with Silva? Don’t they work so well together? They just seem to have that understanding that very few footabllers have.

With Nasri returning to the fold Milner may well be dropped to the bench which I can understand but I would like to see him played centrally. Let’s be honest, our current bunch of central midfielders have hardly covering themselves in glory in the last month so I think he deserves a shot at it. It could be a revelation! 

I think he will sign a new deal in the not too distant future. He has made it very difficult for Pellegrini to justify dropping him and he knows it. Long may that continue.

The CSKA game was nothing short of a disaster meaning City’s Champions League aspirations are hanging by a thread. What was your assessment of that game and indeed City’s European campaign so far? Can we still get out of the group?

Ciaran: That was an awful, awful game. Even before taking into account the disappointing result – the game itself was dire. You can kind of track the lethargy that’s kicked in lately back to that game. I know it was chilly out there but City played like a bunch of cold, impassive strangers, and have been playing like that since. It was such a dull 90 minutes and I remember thinking, at 2-0, ‘Right. The three points are in the bag so the slog of watching this match is going to be worth it after all.” Still wrenches at me a bit that a lead was thrown away and we drew there.

And yeah, it was a penalty for that challenge on Džeko. And yeah, it was never a penalty for that Kolarov challenge. But the fact remains that we went there in October of last year and we came from behind and we got three points. And there should be no doubting the fact that we should be going there this year and bettering that, not stumbling and throwing away a two goal lead with a pathetic second half performance. We are the Champions of England and we’re supposed to be striking fear into teams on the continent but we’re messing it up time and time again.

And I was annoyed at them having 300 of their (corporate) fans there and the City fans not being allowed in. I think that’s an absolutely astonishing way of working things from UEFA. For racism they should have the heaviest book possible thrown right at them. We’re talking like fat, old school Yellow Pages. Instead they’re getting one of those little slim-lined phone books thrown at them with around 300 (corporate) phone numbers in. I’m kind of livid even now about that whole thing. Kompany was incensed, wasn’t he? I have to say I was very proud of him (even though he’ll probably get an Argos catalogue thrown at him over saying what he did.) And he was right when he said “fair’s fair” but somehow, something unfair seems to happen our way in this Godforsaken competition.

Image via Eurosport

I don’t think City will get out of the group now, no. The way they’re playing and the way they have played so far in Europe, do they really deserve to? Obviously the Europa League is the scorn of so many but that’s the standard we’re currently at. We’re trying to mix it up with the big boys and it feels like we’re out of our depth. Maybe we need a while mixing it up with the Young Boys first, though it causes me great pain to say it. Pellegrini says there are nine points still to play for. If, by some minor miracle, we acquire those 9 points, I think it could set the fans and the players’ passions alight and it could be the start of something fantastic in the Champions League. If not, I’ll be your Buy One Get One Free partner for Guingamp at home if ya like?

To compound the horrible week we’ve had, we’ve the Derby as our next game. It doesn’t feel as eagerly anticipated as in previous years but that’s perhaps down to the mixed form both clubs have been experiencing so far this season. How are you feeling about Sunday? What do City have to do to win it? And, for the craic, what do you reckon the score will be?

Bob: Well, I always fear the Derby regardless of form, like most others I suspect, but with the way we have been playing I feel even worse than usual. After the Spurs game I felt confident that we would wipe the floor with them but now I am not too sure. We both can’t really defend so I expect I high scoring game.  I’ll go for a 4-2 win for City with United taking the lead first (please don’t let that happen…please!!!).

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