Today’s match will go down in Teesside folklore as the victory in the Battle of the Bald. Steve Agnew, a man whose only managerial role before becoming Middlesbrough manager last month was an eight day stint as Middlesbrough caretaker in 2010, claimed two points off his opposite man, a man who is arguably the best manager in world football today. An optimist would say City fought back twice from a goal down to claim a point in what has historically been a horrendous ground for us to visit, but I’m not an optimist. In any case, here’s what we learned from today’s draw at Riverside.
The first half of this afternoon’s game was so bad it genuinely have me a headache. Why did NICOLAS OTAMENDI look our most promising attacking threat? Gabby Jesus, Agüero and De Bruyne were initially very poor, showing no signs of end product: naturally Clichy and Navas were just as poor, but we can expect that from them. My timeline was awash with pessimism, capital letters, angst and exclamation marks.
It truly looked like it would be ‘one of those days’, like Cardiff away in 2013/14, Southampton away in 2012/13, Aston Villa away in 2015/16… and so on. The formation looked aesthetically nice on the graphic, but the only time the graphic has ever been reliable is when Pellegrini would play 4-4-2 every single game. Things didn’t improve much in the second half. Honestly, we were absolutely dreadful today, make no bones about it. Leroy and Raheem made the change, but we seemed to have no plan other than to load the box with balls. In the end we looked second best for the majority of the tie, and it really shows how much we miss David Silva. Please come back soon, El Mago.
Pep must take blame
Today, Pep did what we all thought he would – rotate. Whilst I was happy that Gabriel Jesus and Agüero got to start together, surely dropping both Leroy and Raheem, two players who have been pivotal to our side this season, was the wrong decision? Did he suddenly expect Navas and Clichy to suddenly magic up some end product? Moreover, the long lost three at the back, dropped after our mauling at Leicester, was recovered from the dustbin of history. Clearly that’s Pep’s ultimate goal, but once again today, it didn’t work, or look close to working. We looked slightly more assured with four at the back, but the decision to start with three, and then persevere with it when it wasn’t working confused me a little. Eventually ‘he saw the light’ and put four at the back, a decision that should’ve been taken at Friday’s training session.
At the moment we’re sliding towards destruction, with two wins in eight Premier League games. Hopefully we can get our act together and manage to finish in 4th if not 3rd, but Pep has really got a lot of people to prove wrong next season, and has rightfully begun to receive some criticism for the way City have performed this season. I don’t think it’s all his fault, but I don’t really want to hang my hopes on ‘we’ll have a good summer and bring in the best players and then Pep will win 38 league games’. We need to concentrate on this season before dreaming about summer transfers.
I usually make three points for this segment, but really I can’t look past how bad we were, it was up there with some of the worst performances of this season, against a team we absolutely battered a few weeks ago. I don’t see many positives, either, as although both of our forwards scored, neither particularly impressed. De Bruyne was half decent, Leroy and Sterling were okay but could’ve done more, and everyone else was average or worse. Call it bad tactics, bad players, but the bottom line is that any team with a world class manager and players the calibre we had should be winning games like this, and this game could be seen as a microcosm of our season. Fortunately, United slipped up at home to Swansea earlier, so we’ve lost no real ground, though it does feel like a big, big opportunity missed. All we can do is hope that Pep doesn’t play a back three again this season, and some of our players never play again.
We live in hope.