Manchester City: The September 2015 Review

After a blistering start to the season, Manchester City’s September hasn’t been as kind with a number of galling defeats on the agenda. As usual, Ciaran Murray and Rob Toole chew the fat on the month that has been. In this edition Kevin De Bruyne, injuries and the Academy are discussed, and much more…

Rob Toole: In the August review our jobs were made rather easy as we had nothing but wins to talk about. September, however, has thrown up a few rather more difficult results to contend with. We’ve begun to concede a few and had a few tough defeats. That said, before we get bogged down in misery, what was your highlight of the month?

Ciaran Murray: Yeah it’s hard to believe how different this month’s review is in comparison to August’s. We look so much more like the confused, lost side of most of last year instead of the side that ended last season and started this one looking flawless in many ways. A frustrating September.

I think the one major highlight, for me, has been Kevin de Bruyne. I feel sorry for the lad that he’s arrived, played like he has, scored three goals and has still managed to find himself on the end of three defeats. He’s been exceptional and it feels like as he settles, there will be so much more to come.

He seems to be everywhere on the pitch and he anticipates play like I’ve never seen. I watched him against West Ham drift out way wide, away from anyone or the ball, and I thought “What’s he doing over there?” and seconds later the ball had drifted way wide and was at his feet. What’s most impressed me is his quick thinking. There are times when he’s had half a second’s worth of time and space to make a decision and has somehow still managed to play some sort of aerial diagonal through ball across the pitch. I’m excited every time he’s got the ball and he could be the answer to a lot of our problems of recent seasons in terms of running at players, width and decent delivery, as well as another viable David Silva type player in the Number 10 role.

There are some areas where de Bruyne can still improve (there were a few misplaced passes at White Hart Lane including one that led to their first goal) but we’re going to have him for his peak years and he could become one of the best to ever pull on a City shirt. His finishing has been superb and his link up play with Sterling at The Stadium of Light was wonderful; I’d hope to see more of that this season. It’s a pity that, as a team, City have looked so poor recently. Hopefully “Denton Kev” can inspire the rest of the squad to turn things round. I’m in total agreement with Rob Pollard when he said “At £55 million, we’ve got ourselves a bargain.”

September saw City experience a blip after a fantastic start to the season. There have been numerous discussions and plenty of knee jerk statements theorising the issues behind City’s form. What do you put the problems down to?

Rob: It is always difficult to pinpoint one exact reason why things have fallen apart a bit. You’ll no doubt see countless lost souls scouring social media for answers that simply don’t exist and, as a result, lots of nonsense will appear. That kind of insatiable appetite for immediate answers drives me up the wall to be frank but it is not to say there aren’t reasons behind our downturn in form. That said, I think there are two main factors. 

Firstly, I think the international break came at the wrong time for us. We really were on a roll and that just halted the momentum somewhat. More pertinently, it gave our rivals a bit of a chance to regroup and sort themselves a bit. I don’t think it is a major reason why we’ve faltered as everyone else has the same deal but, in football, momentum is everything. 

Secondly, and I think this is the main reason, is the number of injuries we’ve had to contend with. Players like Zaba and Clichy haven’t featured at all this season and the list of players who have been in and out since the start of the season is outrageous, really. Let me think…Aguero, Silva, Nasri, Yaya, Kompany, Mangala, Sterling, Hart, Bony, Kelechi, Fernando and Delph have all been on the sidelines at some point so far. As a consequence, the side has been subject to almost constant change and, I don’t care who you are or how much money you’ve spent, that kind of injury list is going to affect you. It is no coincidence that we’ve started to leak goals since Kompany got injured against Juventus as the settled back four that we had up to that point was broken up. 

Oddly, I don’t think we’ve done too badly performance wise, Spurs aside, given the disruption we’ve had. We could have beaten Juve and there is no doubt that we should have beaten West Ham. It may sound like a contradiction given some of the results, but it could have been worse. 

Much has been made of City’s youth players this month what with Kelechi scoring the winner at Palace and a number of them making their debuts against Sunderland. Some fans seem desperate for them to be thrown in at any opportunity, regardless of whether the situation suits, whereas other fans seem more cautious and are more concerned about the team winning. What are your thoughts on this issue and tell what me you think of the kids you have seen this month? 

Ciaran: That was a huge moment for City, Kelechi’s goal. It could have a huge impact on the table come May, it proved City can win late and ugly but it also showed that faith in the youth system is gradually starting to pay off. An 18 year old, signed for next to nothing, coming off the bench to score a winner is the stuff dreams are made of. I was absolutely ecstatic about the three points, and particularly delighted by the scorer. It’s really unfortunate for us, and for the lad, that injuries have stopped him building on that and making a further impression on the first team.

Kelechi’s winner vs Palace was fairytale stuff but we have to be cautious when it comes to our youth players. We need patience and every kid needs to be allowed to develop in the way best for them. I don’t know where this new phenomenon of crying at a lack of youth players in the first team squad comes from. Has the “Class of ’92” nonsense got to us all? Are we longing for the next Micah Richards or Joey Barton so badly we’ll curse the world class players we’ve bought for starting games? Are we so impatient that the City Football Academy – officially opened not even a year ago – is expected to produce instant superstars?

Twitter has become unbearable at times, on the topic of youth players. It’s reminiscent of the people who used to be really into new music; reading Pitchfork everyday so when a new band made it big they were able to make out they were there from the start. Used to do my head in. Young players might not feature in games because they might not be ready! Highly paid professionals who’ve made football their life’s work might know a little more than an EDS super fan on Twitter.

The outrage when the team for Sunderland in the League Cup was announced was laughable – especially when it turned out Kelechi was injured and three young players were handed (and managed to really impress on) their debuts. Being 4-0 up was the kind of environment to ease the lads into; not the high pressure of starting the game, not making an impact and having to see a Sergio Aguero come on in your place to finish a job you couldn’t do. How damaging would that be? Patrick Roberts was then afforded a substitute appearance against Tottenham in the Premier League. Everything will click eventually and the lads who are good enough will be given their chance; those who aren’t deemed good enough will be sold on for the appropriate sum, Twitter will shake with indignation for a few hours and the next big hope will have everyone talking until he’s loaned to Espanyol with an option to buy.

The bottom line is, the money pumped into the City Football Academy proves that our owners are here for the long term. In the short term, City have a first team of superstars who can conceivably win trophies. That can’t be jeopardised. In the long term, that Academy is going to produce some of the best players in the world. If Denis Suarez, John Guidetti, Emyr Huws, José Ángel Pozo, Marcos Lopes or whoever the next poster boy for the academy are shipped out, they aren’t deemed to be good enough but the production line isn’t going to stop. If Kelechi comes through this year, and Denayer next year, a rate of at least one youth player a season seems fair enough to me until we really see the long term benefits taking shape. Trophies and success are imperative right now, to me it doesn’t matter the age of the players lifting them; as long as it’s City.

City got off to their usual slow start in Europe and it’s all getting a bit tiresome and predictable right now although there are some positive signs. What have you taken from City’s excursions in the Champions League this season? Did the Juventus match feel “like a different kind of defeat” to you?

Rob: As far as the Juventus game is concerned I have heard a few people mention that it felt like a “different kind of defeat”, like you say, but I don’t fully agree. Of course, when you compare it to some of the defeats in the Champion’s League  last season, say against CSKA Moscow at home, it does feel different as City were symbolic in that match. Against Juventus, however, City played very well, on the whole, and it seemed as if things were going accordingly to plan when we took the lead. You could argue that we were unlucky to lose because their they only really had two chances and took them but when you think about the number of chances we squandered we should have never really been in a position where the game could turn on its head thanks to a single goal. We were in total control, in a position of strength, and threw it away. As Louis van Gaal said after United lost to Leicester last season, “we had the game in our pocket and gave it away.”

Oddly enough, the game reminded me a lot of City’s first ever outing in the Champion’s League against Napoli at home. The circumstances were similar in that, if I remember correctly, City had started the league campaign with great verve and went into the game full of confidence. As the game unfolded City had all of the ball but did very little with it. And then against the run of play Napoli took the lead and the remainder of the match consisted of City chasing a game they were fully in control of. The only difference to the Juventus game is that we managed to salvage a point instead of losing. If you look at it from that perspective it doesn’t feel like a “different kind of defeat” at all. On the contrary, it feels exactly the bloody same and it is all getting a little bit tiresome. 

There were some positives in the match, without doubt, but unless we can turn those positive elements into something meaningful like a win it is all a bit annoying. Looking back through the last four years we have never beaten one of the European “big” teams unless it is has been a dead rubber game (for the opponent, at least) and until we do that I will always feel like we are going to keep repeating the same mistakes in Europe. It’s got to happen sooner or later but at the moment it feels like it will be later rather than sooner.

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