It may have been a more spirited performance from Manchester City yesterday than their meek surrender to Leicester last week but another home loss is the straw that’s broken the Cutter’s back. We find him here in a particularly ranty mood…
Manchester City have played five times worse on at least ten occasions prior to yesterday’s 2-1 reverse to Spurs. So why am I choosing now to release a season’s disgruntlement on the page? The straw that broke the camel’s back? Perhaps.
More pertinently it was who the opposition were and the admirable traits they were always going to unleash at the Etihad. Pressing. Desire. A formidable work-rate. More pressing. Just like Leicester one week earlier. Just like Liverpool after being whipped into shape by Klopp. The aggregate score-line for these three games – all at home remember – was 9-3.
Equally as predictable as Tottenham’s ethos was City’s: a posturing stroll from the blocks until startled into action. Until recently I half-believed a fantastical scenario where Manuel Pellegrini and his players – some of whom have won World Cups and Champions Leagues – were too arrogant and ignorant to fully acknowledge what incredible levels of intensity it would take to triumph in such critical fixtures. It was a farcical notion yet the truth of the matter is far worse. They are simply incapable.
Which is why they talk the talk but then turn up to a knife-fight with their arms down, posing like a post-Watson Eubank. Which is why any team that fronts up to City with well-organised heart will always have the better of it.
I have previously written about the mentality issue that pervades the Manchester City squad and I stand by those words. Yet the situation is infinitely more concerning than key personnel not possessing the relentless hunger for glory of a Ferguson United or Mourinho Chelsea. This squad has a soft centre. It lacks guts. It lacks wherewithal and pride. It lacks all-out bastard drive. It can be bulldozed, bruised and battered through the mere application of want.
Bellicose pre-match declarations such as how desperate ‘the lads’ are to win silverware for the departing Pellegrini have a distinctly hollow ring because once the whistle blows, and the opposition scrap and harry, City retreat to a stale, ineffective imitation of the type of football that once blitzed all and sundry.
Considering the gravity of yesterday’s game I would have much rather the players recklessly launched into challenges from the off and given Mark Clattenburg a semi-legitimate cause to screw us over with a first half dismissal. At least then we’d have gone down snarling. At least then it would have appeared that we cared and cared deeply.
Instead it was the same-old same-old, a now-ponderous template that is employed no matter the opposition and one that has long been sussed out by any coach of merit. Defend en masse centrally; should City reach the by-line ensure two midfielders are there for the inevitable pull-back (a trick that is now as wearisome as a coin from behind the ear); relentlessly press a clearly beleaguered Silva; break in numbers to fully capitalise on an exposed back-four.
Yet on they persist, their unforgivable resistance to change or evolution resulting in a paltry amount of chances and a reliance on Aguero or Toure sometimes saving the day with individual brilliance.
City have become a bully with his trousers pulled down who realises all too late that he hasn’t developed sufficient personality to save face with a clever quip so tries to threaten menace with his trousers pulled down.
I have read and heard several times of late that City’s mediocrity this season is a result of them nearing the end of a natural cycle. It is a hypothesis put forward by Blues I have a great deal of time and respect for but for me that smacks of pseudo-intellectualism. And it attempts to excuse the inexcusable.
Let us though, for arguments sake, say there is substance to this claim; that this recently great side has exhausted itself to that of a mayfly in June. It then squares the blame directly at the feet of a mere handful of mainstays who – regardless of their undeniable influence – now find themselves underperforming in a team that is dramatically different to the 23 who won the title in 2011/12.
So does that excuse the going-through-the-motions powderpuff lack of desire that is pernicious throughout the whole present squad? I would say not. It partly explains perhaps but like Pellegrini’s stubbornness, Yaya’s poor deployment and industry, a cruel injury streak, the players in a psychological holding pattern as they await the arrival of Pep, and the inexplicable loss of form from key performers at key times it amounts to an imperfect storm of disappointments.
At the heart of this storm is a lack of one.
That is what I cannot stomach and what I have witnessed time and time again this term. Being out-thought is one thing but being out-fought? Not wearing that shirt you fucking don’t whether you’re chasing the title or battling relegation.
In the next fortnight City face a double-header with Liverpool in the Capital One Cup final and the league. Jurgen Klopp’s men will gegenpress, full of high-intensity running and desire. City will attempt to play their football and appear pedestrian and ABC. Whatever the outcomes of these two matches the above will happen.
They will want it more and they will fight for it more and there is something very, very wrong about that.