Last night, Manchester City secured their place in the fourth round of the historic Carabao Cup thanks to two goals from Leroy Sané and an all-round decent performance from a mix of City’s first and second-string sides. City will now play Wolves at the Etihad, a rare home and non-Premier League draw for the Blues but Wolves are amongst the challengers in the Championship so we should not take this as an easy victory.
As for last night, though, here’s what I learned…
An Ode to Leroy (2)
In February of this year, I wrote a piece called ‘An Ode to Leroy’. It reads like a love letter, discussing Leroy as if he were some supernatural gift from God, sent to dazzle on the wing for City. Since then, Leroy has continued to get better, and better. He now has pedigree for scoring in big games as well as his obvious talent and skill. Yet, in hindsight, if we could have one criticism of Leroy last season it was that he did not start the campaign well, which was perhaps due to injury, but nevertheless it wasn’t until December when Leroy really got going.
This season however is a different story. Though he has started only one of the five Premier League games, which was at left-wing back, Sané has now seriously made the case in the last few appearances that he should be starting more often than not. He was excellent in his half-hour cameo against Liverpool, where he displayed not only two wonderfully finished goals but also, more promisingly, a potential burgeoning partnership with Benjamin Mendy.
It’s often said that young players who seem to have it all almost always lack the final ball, and in my ‘Ode to Leroy’ I stated that Sané is more than just numbers; that his is a gift that can’t be quantified. But if Leroy continues to add goals to his game, there is no reason whatsoever he will not become one of the very best players in world football, and I will be writing continuous Odes To Leroy for his entire career.
Tony Pulis is Tony Pulis
When City played West Brom in the final game of last season, Pep was late to his post-match press conference. His excuse? ‘Tony Pulis is Tony Pulis, and red wine is red wine’. This may be true, but what is also true is that Tony Pulis is Tony Pulis, and when your plan to put 10 behind the ball is foiled by conceding an early goal, kicking your technically better opposition is kicking your technically better opposition.
I honestly have no idea how City ended that game with four yellow cards to West Brom’s one. I certainly have no idea how Claudio Yacob managed to stay on the pitch after his bizarre, two footed scissor-kick lunge which forced Ilkay Gündogan to come off, only for Yacob to score twenty minutes later. The challenge was reckless and the unfortunate recipient had played so well on his full comeback after over 250 days on the side-line.
He didn’t play in the role we’ve expected him to play ever since Marti Perarnau mentioned that Pep saw Ilky as his Thiago or Xavi, rather he was deployed further forward. It was his shot that was saved for Leroy to tap home, and his driving runs and passes that drove City forward, whilst Yaya played the typical deeper role we have become accustomed to over the past year. Fortunately, the injury doesn’t seem to be a terrible one- the first estimates show about four weeks out – this will be a gutting blow for someone who has worked so hard to earn back full fitness.
Iron Hands in Velvet Gloves
It has been said that Napoleon remarked that when ruling, one must ‘put an iron fist inside a velvet glove’. Though he was likely making observations on Machiavellian statesmanship and not Association Football, the idiom can also be used to aptly describe City’s performance last night in comparison to their last three blitzkrieg-like performances. In a week, City put five past Liverpool, four past Feyenoord and six past Watford. Even more astounding is that not only in all of those games they appeared to take their foot off the gas, but City did not concede a single goal in those 270 minutes of football.
Last night was always going to be a difficult game. West Brom played the majority of their first team, whilst City mixed and matched, the most obvious symptom being the bench, which had Foden, Brahim, Adarabioyo and Zinchenko in residence rather than the usual stars. But City showed that they can sometimes, when they have to, take off their velvet glove and win the hard way. Within six minutes of Claudio Yacob’s equaliser and after the only segment of the game City looked vulnerable, they were 2-1 up. A good Claudio Bravo save(!!), then a speedy break away meant that Sané had the mostly static West Brom defence running back to their own goal, and Leroy’s killer instinct left them with no chance.
It is too early in the season to get overly excited, and even though points-wise we are worse off than last season, the nature of the last four games, both glitzy and callous in their intrinsic DNA, mean that we can look upon the spectre of this season with a certain amount of cautious optimism.
The next few weeks are vital: we have Chelsea soon, but the more pressing threat is Palace at the weekend, who have not scored a league goal this season. And up steps an in-form Manchester City.