Tottenham Hotspur away, Liverpool at home, Stoke City away, Leicester City at home, Liverpool away and now, Southampton away.
What do all these games have in common? They’re all Premier League fixtures from this season in which City haven’t just been beaten, they’ve been resoundingly thrashed.
There’s no disgrace in defeat per se. As City fans, we’ve become well accustomed to failure over the years and our skins could hardly be thicker. We can handle being beaten by a better side and we can even handle our team collectively having a bad day at the office from time to time. You can’t win ‘em all.
But the common problem with the six matches mentioned above is that in all of them, City’s performances have been way, way below the standards expected of them nowadays. They’ve been limp and uninspiring, they’ve defended terribly, they’ve been disorganised and frankly, they’ve been an embarrassment to themselves and their supporters.
Sunday’s 4-2 defeat at Southampton was City’s 10th of the season in the league. The last time they lost 10 times or more in a season was 2008/09, when they lost 18 matches and finished 10th. This season’s league campaign may have been written off a long time ago, but it doesn’t make pathetic performances like the one we saw at St. Mary’s any easier to stomach.
Of course, Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to field what was, with a couple of exceptions, his second string side against Southampton proved to be a big factor in the result. I was personally a big advocate of City resting their key players ahead of Wednesday night’s trip to Real Madrid in the Champions League but I, perhaps naively, thought the fringe players had enough about them to get at least a draw at Southampton.
I was wrong.
However, unlike the team of youngsters which crashed out of the FA Cup at Chelsea earlier in the season, the side which lost to Southampton may not have been City’s best, but it was certainly capable. At any one time there were 11 internationals with years of experience out there on the pitch, but you wouldn’t have known it.
There are several factors to consider when analysing where it all went wrong at St. Mary’s. The brilliant Kelechi Iheanacho aside, it was a dispassionate, demotivated team performance and to an extent, that’s understandable. As fans, we always expect a certain level of pride in the shirt and pride in themselves from our players, but it’s been made quite clear to most of those who played on Sunday that they’re considered second rate and that’s hardly going to inspire them to perform as we know they can.
The likes of Wilfried Bony and Aleksandar Kolarov must be well aware that the end of their City career is rapidly approaching and there is therefore little incentive for them to give their all as the season draws to a close. They may be offloaded in the summer, but you can bet they won’t struggle to find another club willing to engage their services and whatever they do in a City shirt between now and then is largely irrelevant.
If Sunday’s result was an isolated incident then it’d be easy to conclude that it was all down to the personnel involved, but it wasn’t and fingers must therefore be pointed squarely at the manager in charge.
Like some of his players, Manuel Pellegrini has been somewhat de-incentivised as his time at City draws to a close. He’s probably already in talks with his next club and it won’t matter one jot to him whether City are playing in the Champions League next season or not. His decision to prioritise the Champions League semi-final this weekend may have had an element of selfishness to it because it’s a competition he’s never won as a manager and this season may well be his last chance to do so.
The majority of City’s best performances this season have come in Europe and in all of them, it’s been clear that a great deal of thought and planning has gone into the way Pellegrini has set his team up. However, when City have been bad they’ve been very bad and on those occasions, Pellegrini’s game plan has been almost impossible to identify. It often feels like he does little more than picks a team and sends it out to play and that absence of pragmatism more often than not results in defeat.
It’s perhaps a little disingenuous to look back on the tenure of Pellegrini’s predecessor and conclude that we should never have got rid of him, but as bad as things got during Roberto Mancini’s final season in charge, at least City never embarrassed themselves with such alarming regularity as they have this season. They never suffered even one heavy defeat but if they had done, you can bet Mancini would have gone into the dressing room swinging after the game and it wouldn’t have happened again.
Prior to the 4-2 defeat at Old Trafford last season, we’d pretty much forgotten what a proper trouncing felt like but we sure as hell know now and that feeling could ultimately be what Manuel Pellegrini is remembered for. We’re at most four matches away from the end of his City tenure and at this moment in time, it cannot come soon enough.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: “To lose one game by three or four goals may be regarded as misfortune: to lose six in a season looks like carelessness.”
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Written by Dan Burke