Manchester City: The December 2015 Review

December 2015 was a busy month for Manchester City and as per Typical City tradition Ciaran Murray and Rob Toole get together to discuss the month that has been. On the agenda this month is the game of the month, City’s terrible away form, Wilfried Bony and much more…

Rob Toole: It has not been a vintage month for City but, with four wins out of seven games, it has not all been doom and gloom. Before we get bogged down in the more frustrating elements of the month talk us through your personal highlight for the month.

Ciaran Murray: In and around this busy period it’s much easier to focus on the more recent results and a couple of frustrating away performances. It feels like forever since the Borussia Monchengladbach game which was City’s obvious highlight of December.

How many times have we wondered if City had finally ‘arrived’ on the European scene? This game and this group stage has certainly shown improvements and progression. Topping a very difficult group after previous failings in Europe was an incredible achievement, really.

The game itself was frustrating and thrilling in equal measure; a microcosmic representation of City’s season in a way. We opened the scoring with a thrilling goal from David Silva, made from a cute little back-heel from Raheem Sterling. Inevitably we let them back into it through some woeful defending (another story of the season) and it looked as though the second place inferiority complex gong was ours again this season.

The introduction of Wilfried Bony, much maligned this season, really helped change things. The Ivorian managed to half miss / half dummy a Clichy cross before Sterling, celebrating his 21st birthday tapped home. The young Englishman finished coolly from Bony’s pass only two minutes later and Bony himself made it 4-2 on 85 minutes. It was just an incredible night for City as Juventus ended up suffering a defeat to Sevilla, meaning the Blues finished on top of the group for the first time. Another highlight of the night was when news filtered through that United had secured themselves Europa League football, having being well beaten by Wolfsburg. A brilliant night to be a City fan all round and we can look forward to the next round instead of the annual period of sh**ing ourselves.

Defeats away to Arsenal and Stoke this month, as well as our third away scoreless draw of the season, this time against Leicester. Our last away win was on the 12th September, when Kelechi got a last minute winner at Palace. We’ve only scored two goals since then, too. What on earth has happened to our away form and how are we going to fix it?

Rob: Our away form has nosedived this season, hasn’t it? As an aside, I find it worrying because, in the past, we have always been able to rely on our home form to regularly pick up points but that we are also a bit shaky at the Etihad is cause for concern.

In answer to your question and to put it bluntly, we need to concede less and score more goals, obviously. Of the two, I would say improving our defence is the first step to finding a resolution to not only our away form but also the home record. It always seems as if we have to work twice as hard to win as the opposition because we invariably need to score at least two goals to win a match. At least if we keep a clean sheet we have half a chance of snatching something, deservedly or not.

The Arsenal match was a classic example of our terrible defence undermining our general play. For the first 30 minutes of that match we were in control but two Arsenal goals out of nothing really put the game to bed. Walcott’s goal was beautifully taken and there wasn’t too much that could be done to prevent it, in my opinion, but the second goal was a lesson in “what not to do in the final minute of half” from Eliaquim Mangala. It beggars belief, really.

How we sort the defence out is a tricky one, though. The media seem convinced that as soon as Vincent Kompany returns to the side all our defensive woes will dissipate. The stats for clean sheets with and without Kompany in the side this season paint a pretty damning picture and I can understand why some of the press would take that angle. However, I feel such conclusions are short sighted in the sense that at the end of last season Kompany was in a terrible vein of form and was actively making us worse. I’m not saying I wouldn’t prefer Vinnie to be in the side, because I would, but I don’t think it is as simple as one player solving all of our problems. He was excellent at the beginning of the season when we won the first five matches, no doubt, but so was everyone else so who is to say that Kompany wouldn’t have slumped, like some of his colleagues, had he stayed fit? If you look at his performances across the calendar year of 2015 (thanks for that concept, Arsenal fans) the good performances are the exception rather than the norm. 

It was encouraging to see us keep a clean sheet at Leicester and maybe that is the turning point for the defence away from home. It is too early to tell, though. A few weeks ago I would have fully expected us to take a pasting from Claudio Ranieri’s team but that we took a point from the match will hopefully boost the confidence of the team. 

I touched on it earlier but many onlookers were scratching their heads at Mangala’s performance against Arsenal. His second half performance, in particular, was extraordinarily bad. What was your take on his performance in that game? From a wider perspective can he still have a future at the club or has your patience ran out?

Ciaran: I gave the highlights of that match another little watch there as a bit of a memory refresher (not because I was in the pub for the match and my mind’s hazy – I swear it) and it makes for grim viewing. City’s struggles on the road mean that we can’t go around gift-wrapping chances to the home team but, unfortunately, Mangala was guilty of that time and time again.

Isn’t it odd that you asked me about his second half performance, even when both goals came in the first? We were lucky to escape with only two goals conceded, weren’t we? Having watched the highlights back, with the sole focus on Mangala for this question, it is striking how poor he was. For Walcott’s goal, although the finish was exquisite, Mangala had not got a clue where he should have been. He was like me when I see a pretty girl in the club: Do I go over? Do I let her come to me? Do I do a little dance? I dunno – I’ll just sort of hover here in the middle somewhere, making it look like I’m doing something meaningful whilst hoping for the best. Unsurprisingly, it never works out. Mangala strayed back and forth, disrupting any semblance of a line being held and in the end was stood in a defensive position without any semblance of defending.

For the second goal, the Frenchman was at fault again. As you say, a perfect example of what not to do in stoppage time. A wildly executed, sort of half volleyed pass to Fernandinho, who couldn’t control it, and suddenly Arsenal were on the attack again. I swear you can see Fernandinho throw him a furious glance as he, and the rest of City’s defence sprint back to try to prevent Mangala’s mistake turning into a goal. In vain, of course.

The second half was just an exercise in awful defending from Big Quimmy Mang. His eyes and head seem to follow the ball no matter what, completely ignoring the man or the movement. Arsenal are always capable of some beautiful exchanges of play and they really took advantage of Mangala’s rash thoughtlessness and left him dizzy, confused and stationary all at the same time. Arsenal came close a number of times and on all of those occasions, Mangala was at fault: his legs everywhere like a baby deer, bursting into tackles, out-paced, given the run-around and misjudging bouncing balls like an amateur footballer, instead of a 42 million pounds French international in his second season in the Premier League.

My patience ran out that night but he’d a much better game against Leicester and it sounds like Sagna is making it his mission to make Mangala a better player. He’s got the raw attributes to make it at City and I find him extremely likeable but it seems, without the guidance of Kompany (or the experienced Demichelis like at the end of last season), Mangala and Otamendi won’t be trusted together too much longer. I’d like him to be a success but seeing David Mooney giving the guy 1/10 for a performance against a title rival like Arsenal does give you the jitters a bit.

You’d a good time at the Etihad on Boxing Day by all accounts, in what was a great win over Sunderland. Kevin de Bruyne put in one hell of an individual performance and 4-1, I thought, actually flattered Sunderland. Talk us through the match and Denton Kev’s brilliance. What did City do in this game that they aren’t doing in so many others?

Rob: The Boxing Day win was a welcome reprieve from the sense of frustration felt after the Arsenal game. Pretty much everything went right from the first minute to the last: Sterling was excellent, Toure looked inspired and Mangala even managed a solid, if not spectacular, outing. As you say, Kevin De Bruyne stole the show with a rather typical Denton Kev performance. It seems strange when he doesn’t get an assist or a goal, doesn’t it?

I had been getting worried that he was getting a bit fatigued because he isn’t use to playing through the festive period and he also looked flat on his feet in the Monchengladbach match at the beginning of the month. However, any doubts were eased after watching him play against Sunderland. What I love is how he appears at ease with trying to find killer passes time and time again. If he doesn’t pull it off his head doesn’t drop and he keeps trying. The cross for Sterling’s opener was classic Kev: whilst some players may try and whip in a cross it seemed as if De Bruyne caressed the ball with all the delicacy and nonchalance of a master painter. His goal to make it 4-0 was a richly deserved reward his afternoon’s work.

As for the game itself there isn’t too much room for complaint but I can’t help but wonder whether we really had to work that hard for the points. In some ways it would have been nice to win a hard fought game comfortably rather than win an easy game comfortably as it would do the team’s confidence the world of good. I do wonder whether “Big Sam” threw the game as it seemed as if the Mackems barely turned up. Maybe I’m wrong but for a manager who seems to think they could manage Real Madrid going out without any real intention of getting something from the game isn’t really the signs of a top class manager. I don’t know, maybe Sunderland are just rubbish. 

Wilfried Bony seems to be the latest in a long line of players to be getting a lot of stick from the fans but his goal record is actually pretty healthy. What are your thoughts on the big Ivorian? Does he deserve a bit more credit for his endeavours? 

Ciaran: Such a tough one to answer because the jury’s still out – in my own head – on Bony. He’s got eight goals this season which isn’t a bad return considering a) he’s always going to be second striker if Aguero’s fit, b) he’s had injury problems himself this season and c) people are going on as if he can’t hit a barn door.

Two or three times this season he’s given City the lead then still been talked about –  either by fans at the ground or people on Twitter – as if he’s the worst player on the pitch. Sometimes his performances are lacking and he can be a little anonymous but he’s getting goals and should be lauded for those. We are supporters of City and we should be giving him our support. He’s bound to be aware of the discontented voices and it’s a vicious circle; the more we moan and groan at him, the more his confidence will suffer.

He’s always going to be up against it as he’s, in a way, competing with two of City’s recent striking stalwarts. Aguero is one of the world’s best strikers and Bony will have signed knowing he’d always be behind him if he’s fully fit. However, I think the shadow of Edin Džeko looms large over our Wilf, too. Some dissenting voices would rather the big Bosnian Diamond have stayed with us but because he’s gone, his replacement is always going to be compared to him. We see it all the time with Pellegrini and Bobby Manc and the striker situation is no different.

It’s a pity for Bony as, for one reason or another, things just haven’t clicked for him at City. The African Cup of Nations, the malaria, the injuries, playing second fiddle, the pressures of challenging for the title and the fans on your back all the time. City’s system change to play with one striker has hurt his chances of starting and when he plays as a lone striker does it work. Does Bony change to fit the system or should the system change to fit the Bony? I dunno. I’d love it if he settled himself a little instead of trying to thwack the ball every time he finds himself with a shooting chance. He tries to take the skin off it when, as we’ve seen at Swansea or at times with us, he’s a really natural finisher and can be lethal in front of goal. The only lethal thing at the moment with him is that someone in row R is gonna get their head knocked off with his shooting.

I hope we start to give him more of a chance and I hope he starts to take his chances. I want Aguero to stay fit now forever so Bony’s going to have to get used to coming off the bench and actually impacting a game; something Džeko excelled at. Like Mangala, he seems very likeable and he hope he proves himself with us.

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