Manchester City: The Review of March 2016

March was another disappointing month for Manchester City. Although a place in the Champions League quarter-final was secured for the first time in the club’s history the rest of the month was shrouded with mediocrity. As usual, Ciaran Murray and Rob Toole review the month. On the agenda this month are David Silva, the Manchester Derby, ticket prices and more…

Rob Toole: One win out of five in March meant it was a pretty dreary months for the blues. That one win was against a woeful Aston Villa side and every other game was dreadful in its own way. Bad being alive, innit?

Ciaran Murray: Yes, it’s awful. We lifted a trophy at the very end of last month but it feels like it could be last year given how poor we’ve been since. There is a rot that’s set in and restoration job that Pep Guardiola has on his hands is going to be colossal. It’s much greater than Pellegrini’s task ever was. Pep will need to oversee a clear out, usher in a new group of players, help those players dreadfully out of form to rediscover themselves, make the Etihad a fortress again and galvanise the weary fans – all while trying to instil his playing style and system.

As excited as I should for next season, the current malaise is decaying away any good feeling towards the manager, the players and the club. As you mentioned, we beat Aston Villa this month but we didn’t score in one other game. We beat Liverpool in the Capital One Cup final then got tanked by them days later; off the back of the win against bottom of the league Aston Villa, we couldn’t even go to (then) second from bottom Norwich to put together back to back wins for the first time since October; we’d a chance to swagger into the Champions League quarter finals but produced an abject display against a Kyiv side that didn’t even try and the worst Man United side I’ve seen during my thirty years on earth rolled us over at home.

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And I mean, how’s it even going to pick up? We’re in a real struggle for fourth now and West Ham, were they to take that spot, would be deserving of it. Leicester or Spurs will also be deserving of the title. Hard work, cohesion, grit and determination have been key features of those three teams this season and have been sorely missed at Manchester City. Sure, we’ve been horrendously unlucky with injuries and the other teams just haven’t but, with our resources, we shouldn’t be in the position where tripping over the line into fourth is all we have left to aim for in a Premier League season. Bad being alive, innit?

I don’t like what I’m about to do as, after a Derby Day defeat, we all like to erase it from our minds and move on. However, given that we’re in the business of a monthly review, and there was barely anything positive to focus on from March, can you talk us through the match against United? How on earth did that side beat us? And why can’t we score goals any more?

Rob: The Derby wasn’t much fun, was it? It was a strange day as I kind of had a sense of apathy towards the game itself and felt strangely calm before, during and after the match. There were a few nerves just before kick-off but nothing like what I am used to on Derby day and that whole sense of resignation made it a peculiar experience.

In the cold light of day, it is pretty embarrassing that we lost at home to the worst United team I can ever remember seeing in my lifetime. Having said that, it was all so inevitable. It was so obviously going to happen that I actually kind of half laughed when Rashford scored the only goal of the game to give United the win. I remember laughed when Robert Huth scored the third against us when Leicester trounced us in February and I seem to have developed a nasty habit of laughing when we concede. It must be a coping mechanism.

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It was just frustrating to see that our obvious shortcomings were not accounted for whatsoever with the team selection. Say what you like about the state of Van Gaal’s team but they at least have some pace at front. Who would have predicted that their pace would expose Demichelis at the back? Well, most people, that is who, and it boggles the mind that Pellegrini didn’t account for it with his team selection. I know his hand was forced slightly with the injuries to Kompany and Otamendi but he could have perhaps played Sagna at centre-half or Fernandinho, like he did in the second half. I must admit I wouldn’t have suggested Ferna at the back before the game and Pellegrini deserves some credit for addressing that problem in the game but, in truth, he should have seen it coming and addressed it before the game had even started.  It made me laught that when he revealed after the match that Demichelis was substituted early in the second half because he was “nervous”. Why on earth is one of most senior players being crippled by nerves in a Manchester Derby? It is another thing that boggles the mind and it all paints a rather ugly picture of Manchester City at the moment.

Another element of the game which was frustrating was the lack of goals and clear scoring opportunities. Sure, the stats will say we had plenty of shots and possession but there was never the sense that United were hanging on to protect their lead. It was all so comfortable for them, so easy. It is not just a problem that has affected the team in the Derby, it has been more and more apparent in recent months. If Sergio or Yaya don’t score a wonder goal or an individually crafted goal we seem to barely ever hit the back of the net. I can’t put my finger on why that is as there seems to be a general malaise in the team which it is a worry. I think one of the issues could be the dip in form of David Silva which leads nicely onto my next question. What have you made of his form in March? I have heard reports that he is carrying an injury which could be affecting him. Generally speaking we seem to play well when Silva plays well so is it a coincidence that our form as a team has dipped when he has been below his usual standards?

Ciaran: David Silva’s current form is a major concern. I don’t like to say a bad word about our little wizard as he’s been at the heart of so many of the great moments in our recent history. However, and it may seem harsh, this is probably the worst season he’s had at City. You know when a fantastic player misplaces a pass when you watch on the telly and the commentator goes, “A rare mistake from X…”? That’s not such a rarity for David Silva any more. In a Bob and Ciaran monthly review first I actually tried to Google a stat. Silva’s passing accuracy this season is 85.7%. In Pellegrini’s first season – City’s second Premier League title winning season, it was 88.2%. That is a difference of 2.5%. I’m not sure if that’s a big deal or not but it’s down anyway. And stats don’t lie.

My point is that when Silva’s not at his best, City aren’t at their best. City’s bad seasons, bad patches or bad games tend to correlate with either the absence of David Silva or a dip in his form. All the classic clichéd images of the Spaniard ‘pulling the strings’, ‘making City tick’ or ‘carving up the defence with a pass’ are so ingrained in our expectations of him that a slight slump rings alarm bells. In the next game he could easily turn it on again and suddenly City will look like the force they could, and should be.

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Sadly, for City, and for Silva, there’s a real worry that it’s too late. It’s fair to say we’ve lost the Premier League this season and, although there’s a vague hope we could advance in the Champions League, this season’s been a write off. City are starting from scratch next season and I worry Silva could fall victim to Pep Guardiola’s cull. It’s sad and I feel such sentimentality towards the guy but I’m not sure the observing eyes of his countryman will be impressed enough to keep him here next season. He’s got that niggling ankle injury that you mentioned, he’s probably not starred in one game since Pep’s announcement, City have been too reliant on him in past seasons, his age is catching up with him and there’d still be value in a potential transfer fee. Two months ago, when Pep was announced, I scoffed at the idea that Silva could fall foul of the new regime’s axe. Now, I’m more than a little concerned. I hope he stays forever because I love him but other people with less emotion and more power might not feel the same way.

Aaaaaand…speaking of emotionless, hard-faced people with power and sway, the decision to raise prices for the PSG game has caused derision, disbelief and division amongst City fans. What’s your stance? Can you see it from City’s point of view at all? What action do you think the fans should take? I’m away for the West Brom game but will you (and your guest if you can shift my ticket) be heading outside on 60 minutes?

Rob: The PSG ticket announcement appears to the straw that has broken the camel’s back. Whilst in isolation, the PSG ticket pricing is obviously a bad thing I think there has been growing discontent around ticket prices for a while, not just at City, but it seems that this particular incident has been a bridge too far for some City fans. The continued silence from the club over next year’s season ticket prices is a growing concern and I can’t help but feel that the club are waiting to the “right moment” to release them. Surely if they were either going to reduce or freeze them they would have announced it by now. With the likes of Everton reducing their season tickets and Spurs freezing them, there would be no reason why City wouldn’t announce such a thing if they were freezing or reducing. A bit of positive PR would be great right now considering the poor form of the team in recent months.

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It is hard to see this latest move from the club in any positive light given that it is completely unjustifiable. Ticket revenues make up a fraction of the club’s income and, as we have seen in the past, European home games with expensive tickets do not sell out. Funnily enough, the games where they have made reductions, like the CSKA buy one get one free offer and the Hamburg game under Hughes have sold out. I wonder why! Do they really think it is fair to try and justify hiking up the prices just because it is the first time we have reached the quarter-final of the Champions League? All that booing of the anthem is a clear demonstration that we, as a fan base, aren’t exactly enamoured with the competition.

I noticed in this last week that the club have re-worded the way the ticket prices are presented for the PSG game so they appear cheaper than what they are. They appear £5 cheaper until you get to the bottom of the page and it says that non-season ticket holders will pay £5 on top of the above prices. I think that shows how out of touch the club are with the fans. Surely they must be aware of the discontent amongst some supporters and instead of actually doing something to address that area of concern they have attempted to trick supporters into thinking they’re cheaper tickets. The club will try and justify it by saying that it clearly says at the bottom that for some fans will be an extra £5, which is true, but I can bet your bottom dollar on it that if tickets were a reasonable price, say £25 or £30, they wouldn’t try and make them appear £5 cheaper. They clearly know there is an issue but have chosen to be d*cks about it. The whole thing stinks.

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I would happily support a walk out at the West Brom game. Liverpool fans have proven that fan action works as they managed to make the club stand up and take notice. It was a great moment for them and for football fans across the country. With that in mind, I find it astonishing that a lot of City fans are against a walk out. Are they mad? Some of the reasons for not doing are crazy. Some are worried it will make the club look bad. Surely that is the point, though? Others are worried that rival fans will mock empty seats. If grown adults are worried about moronic rival fans mocking the fact that fans can no longer afford to watch the team they support I think they’re beyond help. If we staged a walk out at least we can say we, as fans, tried to do something. If we are passive about it the club will continue to rinse us. Even if some fans are still able to pay the high prices I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want to pay less, not only for themselves but for other fans as well. A walk out may not work but it is definitely worth a try. 

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