Once upon a time, Manchester City blew all comers to the Etihad Stadium away. Tonight, and by extension the rest of the season, however, fans should currently be wondering how, for the umpteenth time, City have failed to win a game of this type. Home draws against teams we have outplayed to varying degrees have cost us heavily, especially given our good away record. One may coyly say that at least Liverpool didn’t destroy us as they did last season, taking us to pieces with ease: but that is a losers’ mentality. We can’t afford to ‘take a point’, even though at times today we seemed lucky to. Conversely, I don’t believe we should be too downhearted, as there were a few positives to take away, even if we failed to win. So, here’s what I learned from todays’ game.
Old and thin squad
I was wondering whether to make this into two sections, but I’m fairly sure the two are mutually exclusive. Today, City had five players over the age of 30 from the start. This clearly showed, as well before he was taken off, Yaya Toure was, for lack of a better term, knackered. One might argue that City have played a lot of games recently and therefore are quite rightly tired. But when paired with the other issue at hand, the lack of depth, it can and most definitely will irritate the problem further. Whilst Gündoğan is inured, City have two competent central midfield players, one whom was played at right back and the other one who was tired by 65 minutes. Yaya Toure, for me, is City’s best ever player, and needs to be offered a new deal. But his legs and lungs simply cannot play a high number of games, especially when we are essentially relying on him in a game as big as this one.
Secondly, as has been touched upon, City’s squad is threadbare. We know that Pep likes to work with small squads, but who among us can say that our fringe players, those being Delph, Nolito, Navas, Iheanacho and Fernando Reges are in any way going to come on and change a game? It’s honestly incredibly naïve and disheartening. Yesterday, Real Madrid had Isco, Kovacic, Morata and James on the bench. Today, Bayern had City targets Coman and Kimmich, alongside Renato Sanches on theirs. Chelsea had Batishuayi and Fabregas on the bench, and that was a squad without Eden Hazard. Remember the times we had Aguero/Tevez/Dzeko/Balotelli or Aguero/Dzeko/Negredo/Jovetic? Seems a long time since we had a good bench.
We’re being linked with a lot of defenders at the moment, but evidently that’s not all City need right now.
Much has been made of City’s flimsy defence. Pep can’t organise a defence, they say. Not true. They also harass Pep for wanting Aguero to improve his game, sometimes overtly willing Sergio to leave City and prove Pep wrong. Is it not a coach’s job to get the best out of his players? Yet, how can anyone, after what we have seen so far this season, argue that Aguero can’t improve his game? I love him to the moon and back, but despite scoring tonight he could’ve won that game for us. I still believe Sergio will stay on and score his 200th City goal, and no one can really deny that he’s been good since his return to the first team, responding well to Pep’s demands. Only time will tell on that matter, but Sergio could’ve been up there with the top scorers in the division had he put away a few of the easier chances he’s seen this season.
He, however, is not the only player to miss chances. Kevin’s against Chelsea haunts me. You get the feeling that they’ll be a moment where it all just clicks into place and we’ll put 6 past someone. Some would call our finishing unlucky, others poor. We see flashes of what we’re capable of most games, yet for the most part it never translates into the score line pummeling that City deserve to be dealing out with the performances we put in.
For the second time in two years, a young English prospect exchanged Merseyside for Manchester for a large price. History has a knack of repeating itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce, and it is no different in this case. John Stones was criticised widely for leaving a team outside of Champions League contention for City, under the guise of ‘he left for the money!!!’, though perhaps not to the extremes of the abuse Sterling has received. Yet again however, John Stones has come up with another wonderful performance in a big game. Great in the midweek against Monaco, Stones was absolutely epic today. Liverpool had a few chances, it is true, yet Stones can hold his head held up high after the amount of times he curtailed a Liverpool attack, even more so when at the end he rallied us forward, taking on Liverpool players and trying to inject some life into the dying game. The best of the lot though, was his world class last ditch tackle on Sadio Mané. Perfection.
Mute that guy you follow on Twitter might say ‘he’s terrible’ or ‘real defenders should just kick it out’, because let’s face it, he’s wrong. John Stones is Manchester City’s future. The last time I wrote this segment, I bemoaned City have no spine, but surely now Stones is proving himself worthy of being a future City and England captain. He has it all. We’ve spent millions upon millions of a partner for Kompany, and now it seems we’ll spend millions for a replacement for Vincent. But with Stones, we have an absolute gem.
To finish I’d like to end on a high note by mentioning two players. Firstly, Otamendi was a rock today. I’d have felt bad for not mentioning him, but despite a few aimless balls forward, he was great alongside Stones. The other is Willy Caballero, whom this week told the powerful story of his daughter’s battle with cancer. He sounds really happy at City and was brilliant today. I implore Pep and Txiki to offer him a new deal, even if he will be our understudy for next season. #KeepOurWillyIn