The streak is over. I think most of us expected it, but is over nonetheless. No more ‘Losing? never heard of him mate’ jokes on Twitter. A real shame. City put out a team which was indicative of our plans, the deadest of dead rubber games in Ukraine just days before the biggest game of our season so far. It was a strange game, a game I would say contained our worst half of the season so far, followed by a half in which we massively improved. Despite this reductive analysis on a pointless game, I learned a few things I’d like to share with you…
Foden and Diaz: They’re Quite Good
Phil Foden became the youngest ever English player to start in the Champions League tonight, at just 17 years and 192 days. He didn’t start in his natural position but he absolutely shone. In the first-half he was probably the only bright spark, not only running up and down the wing as you’d expect a young man to do, but playing with a cool, intelligent head and delivering one or two excellent lateral balls through Shakhtar’s rigorously well drilled defensive lines.
Diaz came on for Leroy on the hour and exceeded everyone’s expectations. He was tricky, bright and managed to create a few opportunities, turning his man inside and out and appearing on both flanks of the pitch, combining nicely with Foden at times. It is an understatement to say these two are our future, they are both excellent young players and their performances in this game will only serve to grant them more time on the pitch.
It would be unfair to not mention Adarabioyo – he didn’t have the best first half by any stretch of the imagination but as the game went on he looked more assured, though that may have something to do with Shakhtar’s receding will to attack in the second half.
Is Our Depth an Illusion?
It is impossible to too harshly criticise City after that performance when we look at the bigger picture. This is our first defeat in all competitions this season, and most of us expected it. Yet I can’t help but feel slightly worried, only slightly, about what might happen should one of our midfielders be the victim of a long-term injury. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva mean everything to us, and I really don’t see Bernardo or Ilkay close to their level.
Both have their reasons. As David Hartley argues, Bernardo needs time to settle in. But when is it okay to start worrying that as of yet he’s not really doing much to show why we went out and bought him straight after the season had finished? So far, he’s seemed to lack that killer instinct, that final ball. It’ll come, I’m sure the talent is there. But when?
Gündogan, on the other hand, is still coming back from a long-term injury and it may be sometime before he is fully up to speed. It’s a good thing he’s been able to play a fair amount thus far this season and for me he definitely improved in the second half tonight, but I do worry that should Fernandinho get injured, who is there to play that deep role? We’ve barely seen Gündogan in that role either, he’s mostly played in lieu of De Bruyne or Silva.
I worry that creatively we’re nothing without De Bruyne and Silva, and should one suffer an injury a system change may cover up the gap, we have to believe better is to come from both Bernardo and Ilkay. It’s not panic stations just yet, just something to mull over.
To add to this, Danilo is an interesting case. He was quite poor against West Ham, and Pep must’ve agreed since he was hooked at half-time. He wasn’t great tonight either. I think he was unfortunate to get booked but he wasn’t as solid as you’d hope from your new £26.5m full-back. It will be hard for him, new signing immediately benched for the much better Kyle Walker, reduced to a bit-part utility man. Can he improve when playing so little? We can live in hope.
It’s Not That Deep
That first half was really, really bad. We improved in the second half and at the death earned a penalty to make the score-line a little more respectable. There were bright sparks in Foden and Brahim and the fact no one got injured or sent off is something we can be happy about. The important thing is to accept that City now have bigger fish to fry. Is it really a shock that we lost a game with perhaps our fourth choice left-back, fourth and fifth choice centre-backs and our second choice right back? Jesus and Sané may have played but you get the feeling from their performances they weren’t going hell for leather, whether we like it or not.
We have our biggest game of the season now just days away. We may have lost the incredible record of consecutive wins, but who will remember a win record if we throw away an eight-point lead because we sent out the same, or similar, eleven just to keep up an almost meaningless record? You don’t get trophies for winning lots of games in a row, you get trophies for getting more points than all your rivals, or beating them over two legs and the doing a madness in a final.
Tonight’s game meant essentially nothing but for the trip for the away fans and some more Gazprom money for the club. City will have a deeply changed side for the derby, and we will go into that game confident. The title is ours to lose already, and I like our odds, in many ways regardless of what happens on Sunday. But don’t let that fool you: I would love nothing more than City going to Old Trafford and doing a madness. Beating them is what football is about.