AGAINST Wolves on Sunday, Manchester City toiled to little effect only to see their opponents reduce them to wild panic whenever the will took hold. It was an uncharacteristically mortal display that brought to mind Clark Kent getting beat up in a diner in Superman II having relinquished his superpowers but as startling as it was to witness in truth such a performance has been in the post for some time.
That’s because no team, past or present, flesh and bone or prodigious can withstand the many issues currently weighing City down. It’s too much to bear even for them. The most substantial of which is of course the long-term injury to Aymeric Laporte.
We all knew from the moment he crumpled in agony on the last day in August that his unerring reading of danger and calm authority would be a huge loss going forward but nobody could have anticipated to what extent Nicolas Otamendi would spectacularly unravel without a steadying influence alongside him.
Wolves have just become the first team to beat Manchester City to nil at the Etihad under Pep Guardiola in the Premier League.
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) October 6, 2019
At the weekend a no-look cross-field pass defied all logic and very nearly led to calamity while one of the goals could easily have been averted by the shepherding of his opponent while simultaneously blocking off the obvious through-ball. Basics, basically, and in a defence required to be fluent in a new and convoluted language we have a pivotal figure who can’t do his A, B or Cs. Instead the erratic Argentine chose to once again commit to his patented and ludicrous ninja lunge, an all-or-nothing risk that would not be tolerated in Sunday league. Instead seven points behind Liverpool became eight.
If Laporte’s injury means that the magnificent edifice that Pep built no longer has a Rolls Royce in the garage there are other absences too that have left it structurally damaged. Missing from the Wolves game was Kevin De Bruyne, unquestionably the Premier League’s most brilliant talent. Leroy Sane was absent too as he will be for some time and being deprived of the devastation and chaos he causes is a significant factor when City encounter a well-drilled back nine. In defence Mendy and Stones would have been key players and were greatly needed.
Take the equivalent of any one of these players out of any team you care to mention and the loss would be considerable and for all of the understandable headlines and shock at City’s defeat the primary reason for it is as banal as it gets: stop the presses, an extraordinary team becomes ordinary when half of its starting eleven is unavailable.
Exacerbating this is a notable decline in form from several stars that are usually turned to when supposed formalities need fight and fortitude. This season Bernardo Silva has been a shadow of his former self and when it’s accepted that his former self was an unplayable dervish of clever creativity that’s going to have an impact. With the consequences of his stupid social media content yet to play itself out don’t expect this decline to end anytime soon either.
— Stephen Tudor (@SteTudor123) September 30, 2019
This past month meanwhile has seen Raheem Sterling regress dramatically while Oleks Zinchenko appears to be under the impression that he has this full-backing lark fully sussed now meaning there is no further necessity to concentrate on every decision he makes.
Yet even concerning those in relatively fine fettle problems exist. Once again on Sunday David Silva was partnered with Ilkay Gundogan advanced of a holding midfielder but with the number 8s so similar in their support play it’s clear that when put together City lack a cutting edge. Against Wolves the home side was crying out for someone to break the lines and offer the kind of dynamism De Bruyne brings to the party but of course the Belgian was injured as too was Phil Foden. No, wait, Foden wasn’t injured at all. He was raring to go and kicking his heels on the bench
It’s a weird, weird feeling to disagree with the greatest coach who has ever graced the game and know instinctively that on this one topic you are correct. On Sunday 53,000 Blues had that feeling. Another issue that has weakened Project Pep was always going to be an issue no matter what.
Ahead of the game Radio 5Live praised Guardiola’s ability to motivate his team and eliminate complacency even after winning back to back titles. But it’s not about motivation or complacency, or indeed any other impulsion that skims the surface of the human psyche.
When Ilkay Gundogan has started as an attacking midfielder post-injury, #MCFC have dropped points 70% of the time. Gundogan has started all eight of City’s most recent league defeats.
City have a 43% win rate in the last 14 games when IG and Silva have started.
— Man City Xtra (@City_Xtra) October 7, 2019
Two years ago a group of individuals were asked to create a masterpiece and inspired at the prospect of achieving the unimaginable they wrung out everything they had to do so. Straight after finishing it they were asked to create another masterpiece and somehow they did. Yet there are only so many incredible feats that can be pulled off consistently. Levels drop. It’s human nature.
As for the sixth and final issue that too is beyond City’s control because it has felt for some time now that it’s somehow Liverpool’s destiny to finally win a Premier League title. Last week a goalkeeper blundered for the umpteenth time against them to gift three points. This week a penalty was awarded that would have seen Sergio Aguero booked had the incident occurred at the Etihad.
If a dive is a lie – and it is – then initially Sadio Mane told the truth in keeping upright. Then his actions essentially said: “Wait, I want to lie now but I’ve just been truthful by mistake. Can I throw myself to the ground and we’ll just pretend that whole truthful bit never happened?”
The referee bought it. VAR bought it.
And with that the title race is over, if it could be called in hindsight a race at all. But for City fans, and their exceptional, celestial team the ride continues. To where who knows.