October’s been an eventful month for City, with all sorts to discuss – as usual, we’ve got Rob Toole and Ciaran Murray to mull over all of the talking points, including a wobble in form, a Derby defeat, and questions over Guardiola’s tactics…
Ciaran Murray: Three defeats, two draws and one win at the end of the month meant that October was a bit of drag in comparison to the blistering form shown through August and September. Where did it all go wrong in October?
Rob Toole: It is hard to pinpoint exactly where it went wrong, or why, but, to me, it seems as if the warning signs were there in the 3-3 draw with Celtic at the end of September. I thought that game would have been a “kick up the arse” for the players ahead of the difficult Spurs game at White Hart Lane. On the contrary, it turned out to be a precursor.
I suppose it was inevitable after winning the first ten games that the incredible run would come to end sooner or later. I just don’t think many of us, myself included, expected us to go six games without a win. Given the general malaise that had seemingly infected the club in the second half of Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure it was never really going to be an instant fix. I see City as very much a work in progress at the moment.
That said, I still think we have played quite well in October, but have just not been getting the results. Individual mistakes have been decisive and that is something a manager cannot legislate for, no matter how illustrious they are. If you look back through October, individual errors have affected almost every game. Spurs first goal? Kolarov’s fault. The Everton draw? Kev and Kun both missed penalties. Barca’s first goal? Fernandinho’s fault. Barca’s second, third and fourth goals? Bravo’s fault (not really, but kind of). Southampton’s goal? Stones’ fault. United’s goal? Erm, Otamendi maybe but not too sure. Let’s just say Sterling because The Sun and lots of other cretins hate him.
Talking of the derby, what was your take on the game? Did it feel strange seeing Pep field a weakened team in what is usually one of the biggest fixtures of the season.
Ciaran Murray: It was the least anticipated Derby in my recent memory and ended up being entirely forgettable. The build up, as it tends to because of the past rivalry, focused on the managers and there was very little to judge from the result. Both managers – and both teams – were in the kind of rut where victory would have been favourable but it was quite obvious that Mourinho reckoned he needed it more.
Obviously I wanted City to win and I take every defeat against that lot pretty badly but I found this one very easy to put behind me and move on from. It did seem strange seeing Pep fielding a weakened team because, as fans, we want to see United absolutely pulverised but, with hindsight it was probably a fair enough decision. I’d like to see us win every trophy going but, in the scheme of things, the League Cup is the absolute least of our priorities. Mourinho, as we’re constantly reminded, has a great track record in that competition. If it means that much to him and United then I say let them fight for it. It feels like we’ve got bigger fish to fry.
United won that game and it seemed to mean the world to some of their fans. What amused me most was their reaction to City’s team being (accurately) described as their reserves. A full strength United side could only manage a 1-0 victory over City’s second string! I don’t think the result was in any way a disaster. Maffeo and Garcia got some minutes against a supposedly strong team and both of them performed exceptionally; City rested players for a tough away trip to West Brom (and for Barcelona in the Champions League) and we’re out of a competition that we’re not really that bothered about. On League Cup game-week we’re now afforded some rest time and Pep will have more opportunities to plan for games that really matter.
In saying all that, I’m kidding myself a bit… it’s still such a punch in the gut to lose to that shower isn’t it?!
When results aren’t going in our favour, it’s quite difficult to pick out too many players who impress with their performances. However, I think this month we got to see a little bit more of what Ilkay Gündogan is all about. How do you think our summer signing has settled in? What does he bring to City’s midfield and do you think there’s more to come from the German international?
Rob Toole: Ilkay has been sensational since he made his debut for us, but it seems like he has slipped under the radar a bit in the media and from fans of other clubs. That is absolutely fine by me, to be honest. To think we signed him for £20 million. In this day and age that is a complete coup. I would argue he is the signing of the season so far.
With Yaya’s omission from the team this season, it seems as if he Gundogan has filled the gap left by him. He is a proper traditional central midfielder and is the most Fernandinho-esque player we have other than Fernandinho, obviously. Given how we play under Guardiola it feels vital that we have a mobile and skilful man or men in the middle to keep our structure, whilst the likes of Silva, Kev and Raz do their thang. He is just great to watch.
I suppose the only question mark around him would be his injury record. Maybe that is why we managed to get him quite cheap? He was injured when we signed him so I just hope that he is able to keep fit. If he can he can certainly develop and become a huge player for us.
Throughout the winless run, questions were asked about Pep’s methods. I couldn’t help but detect a sneering attitude from some media outlets towards him. Did you ever have any doubts? Surely the man deserves more respect for everything he has achieved?
Ciaran Murray: In a weird way I’m a little bit glad of that poor spell. Pep arrived to a weight of expectation and, after going on that amazing winning streak of ten games, the winless streak brought us all back to earth again. I think this gave us a reminder that Pep is not infallible, that you can’t win them all and, crucially, that we have to trust in our manager to see us through this. After West Brom (and Barcelona – but more on that next month) Pep has proved that it’s foolish to write him off.
It felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy in some ways. After those initial ten games, Pep started talking about the possibility that we’d lose soon. He encouraged the idea that it was how we bounced back from the times we didn’t win that would be so important. Who’d have thought the bouncing back would mean six long games without a win? After the draw at home to Southampton I read that Pep kept the players in the dressing room for almost an hour. From what I understand (I think it was KDB who explained it), he didn’t bollock the squad but instead insisted that the players are doing the right thing; that this is the way to play and that sticking with his philosophy is what will keep City moving forward.
Ignoring the aforementioned derby for the reasons outlined, it was incredibly refreshing to see the players respond in the league against West Brom. What a performance. Sheer dominance, building from the back, a clean sheet, four goals, Kun firing again and City rediscovering their swagger from the start of the season. Felt a bit sorry for our old mate Tony Pulis but that’s a story for another day.
I don’t know if I did have my doubts but hindsight is a wonderful thing. There were times where I was a little frustrated and it harked back to last year like a bad hangover. However, as you said earlier, it was individual errors that brought about our undoing and City were still playing really well in most of the games. I hope we’ve learned something from those six games and can use that mini-malaise to realise that we shouldn’t really question the judgement of one of the most successful managers in the history of the game. I suggest our forwards work on their penalties, our defenders look up before passing back and hope our keepers remember that outside that big box they are not allowed to handle the ball!
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