A couple of weeks back when I knew I’d be writing the match reports for City Watch, my Dad asked me whether I could simply write down the word ‘shite’ and then sign off. Unfortunately, I’m not sure my editor would permit such an abrupt review of the game, but the five letter expletive is the perfect adjective to describe our latest non-performance.
Everton, who put on a display as mellifluous as the famous Z-Cars theme that has welcomed the Toffees on to Goodison Park for the last 53 years, were fantastic. Slouching in 11th place, Premier League Everton has been less mighty than the sum of its parts this term, but Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Muhamed Bešić put on respectively commanding spectacles on Wednesday night to ensure that silverware remains in their sights.
It was the same old agonising story for us, though. Boss the opening 20 minutes, create nothing, start clumsily giving the ball away, let the opposition take control, concede. Repeat. Boss the opening 20 minutes, create nothing, start clumsily giving the ball away, let the opposition take control, concede. Repeat. It’s incredibly frustrating given the quality of our personnel and it’s even more disappointing that drab performances like last night’s have flattened the expectations of some of our fans. Come off it, guys, we really should be demanding more from our players.
Yaya, Sergio and David – the axis that has been so critical to our success – just didn’t show enough. Call me a broken record, but there was a point last night when I actually laughed at how bad Touré’s attempts at defending were. As one of their players skipped towards our 18-yard-box, Touré seemed to disguise an attempt to have a little sit down with a half-arsed swipe. Manuel seems to trust him more than any other midfielder, but we must ask whether he’s keeping Yaya on the field merely for his ability to flick the magic switch on for a couple of minutes. Has Pellegrini accepted that we’re now having to rely on moments of individual brilliance to keep up chugging along?
Touré’s adversary on the night, however, was exceptional. Putting in the effort and showing the tenacity that the Ivorian could not, Bešić set the pace for the hosts in the first half and sprinted 30 yards to put one of the meatiest challenges you’ll see in on the 32-year-old. It was a real crowd pleaser and as they began to realise that our narrow approach was never getting behind their back line, Everton, and Bešić, began to dominate the half. Without Raheem Sterling or Jesús Navas in the starting XI, there was no penetration and certainly no help for Bacary on the right, nor Gaël on the left. I praised Pellegrini’s decision to replace Kolarov with the more defensive-minded Clichy in anticipation of a rough night against Gerard Deulofeu, but he struggled without a recognised winger in front of him.
Nicolás Otamendi on the other hand, the absolute brute, welcomed the host’s dominance with open arms, taking the opportunity to grip the game by the bollocks and to put in a few of those trademark crunching tackles – most notably a brilliantly timed slide to deny Lukaku. With his tattoos and that perfectly coiffed beard, Otamendi resembles a prison inmate more than a footballer, but the Argentine made sure our defending was better than its usual criminal standards.
He also made sure that our offside trap worked effectively. Everton had the ball in the net twice as the first half came to a close, but both were flagged by the linesman. Our offside trap working well, yes, but also a sign that Martínez’s side were coming very close to breaking the deadlock. And it was no surprise when they did, Funes Mori tapping in after Caballero parried Barkley’s fierce effort in added time. It was a nightmare time to concede, but thoroughly deserved. P.S. For those blaming Willy for that goal, don’t be silly.
The half time substitution of Martin Demichelis for Eliaquim Mangala raised a few more questions: was Mangala that bad? Is Manuel running out of patience with him? How many goals is Lukaku going to score now? In the end, it turned out that Eliaquim had picked up a hamstring injury, but the switch really forced home how many problems we have at the back. Yes, Mangala has had a difficult season, but he’s also suffered a number of muscle injuries this term. As for Demichelis, it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s no longer up to the pace of Premier League football or football against Premier League opponents and he was at fault for Lukaku’s winner.
Before that, though, we got our 10 minutes of fight. Unsurprisingly, given our lack of width, the introduction of Navas for Delph on 54 minutes saw us become more of a threat in the final third. In a rare flurry of attacks, Agüero missed a sitter from about three yards out, Fernandinho headed straight at Robles, and De Bruyne forced a smart save from the Everton keeper. It was fourth time lucky for us, though, as Fernandinho’s long ball was beautifully controlled by Sergio and rolled into the path of Navas who equalised with his left foot. Navas? Scoring? Left foot? It was a sequence of absolutely remarkable events, but the Spaniard deserved such a reward for the impact he made.
Unfortunately, the elation lasted just two minutes as Lukaku lost Demichelis to nod in the winner on 78 minutes. How utterly predictable.
But there was still time left for a hilariously baffling decision from Pellegrini. With the Toffees down to 10 man after Seamus Coleman limped off with calf injury, Manuel brought on Fernando for De Bruyne. “Is this real life, or is this just banter-sy?” I hear you ask. Who knows, but his decision to plug the midfield for four minutes rather than bringing on the legs of Kelechi Iheanacho or Raheem Sterling to target Everton’s vacant right-hand side was absolutely outstanding. The manager is obviously happy to take a one-goal deficit to the Etihad, and in fairness, conceding a third would probably have meant tie over.
Personally, I’m still confident of us making it to Wembley. A one-goal deficit certainly isn’t the end of the world and we’re a completely different outfit on home turf where attacking and scoring goals is our main prerogative. There’s an obvious problem with our team, though, and it would be foolish to ignore the effects of the Pep talk on both the manager and the players. I feel sorry for Manuel, I really do. Despite him quite obviously being aware of the situation, Manuel’s handled the speculation brilliantly and in the measured fashion we’ve come to expect from him. Unfortunately, the reticent approach he adopts in his altercations with the media also has negative repercussions, and as fans, it’s unclear whether our manager really knows how to get us out of the slump we’re currently in.
I’ll see you on Saturday when, hopefully, we come away from Carrow Road with a win.
Rate the players
[statsfc-player-rater key=”D8SJIk7F6vySBuDaFQRSHy11xfbyCt18uXRinj2b” team=”Man City” date=”2016-01-06″ default_css=”true”]