Call it strange, a change in fortunes, form, or above everything, poor performances, Manchester City’s season has turned around rather drastically in the last fortnight. Manuel Pellegrini’s men could do no wrong till the away clash against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, where their virtuosity and tremendous tenacity saw them secure all three points in a game they were made to work hard by the home side and probably, would not have been too disappointed if the score had remained 0-0 at the end of 90 minutes.
It was hard to pick weak links in the 2013/14 English champions’ arsenal. The backline led by Vincent Kompany, looked seldom vulnerable and City, despite Sergio Aguero looking far from his usual self in front of goal, did not have problems finding the back of the net.
They began their UEFA Champions League campaign at home against Juventus, having won all their league games and kept cleansheets in every one of them. City could not have gone into their first group match in a better shape, but endured their first defeat of the season, against Juventus, that too after leading the game with 21 minutes to play and with the visitors not posing a major threat to Joe Hart’s goal.
Concession of goals – very cheap ones – began there and City have since looked a side very much akin to the one that struggled for a majority of the second half of the 2014/15 season. Kompany has not played any of the last three games after suffering a calf injury in the loss against the defending Serie A champions, and the defence, with Nicolas Otamendi featuring for the Sky Blues at the back in those three fixtures, has looked flimsy and lacked composure and maturity.
The Cityzens have thrown away 1 goal leads twice in the last four games, conceded 9 during that time and in return, scored 7 – four of those coming in the 3rd round of the Capital One Cup victory against Sunderland.
City have been a tad unfortunate since the victory against Alan Pardew’s side. Alvaro Morata scored the winner for his side by latching onto a loose ball that ricocheted off Aleksandar Kolarov’s back, and you had to feel for the then league leaders. Against West Ham United, who won 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium, the linesman gave the visitors a corner despite Kolarov clearing the ball that did not even have a piece of itself over the byline. It resulted in Diafro Sakho scoring the goal, with Fernandinho making a schoolboy error while guarding one of the goal posts. Against Tottenham Hotspur yesterday, City were once again hard done by some poor officiating, which benefited Mauricio Pochettino’s men, who harnessed the two decisions that should have been off-sides.
Continuing on the topic of misfortune, City have had everyone, literally, of their star names affected by injuries, starting with Kompany, who has been in good form so far this season. David Silva has been the other player out with an injury since playing against Juventus, and City have not been able to take care of the results without the Spaniard weaving his magic. Hart was deemed fit only for a place on the bench against the North Londoners, leaving Pellegrini with no choice but to bring in Willy Caballero, who had an afternoon to forget at White Hart Lane. City, of course, are a strong and world class side chock-a-block with great players, and cannot be giving injuries to a clutch of personnel as an excuse for abject displays. But given the impact the aforementioned trio has had on the club winning 4 trophies since the beginning of this decade, you can cut City some slack.
You, however, cannot go without criticizing the Sky Blues, who not so long ago gave you the impression that they had learnt from their trophy-less last season. They have not played at a good tempo in and out of possession, starting from the 1-2 defeat to Juventus, and been made to pay heavily for it. City were expected to defeat Juventus, West Ham, Sunderland, and Spurs, but you get zero points for expectations and presumptions, and that is exactly what City have managed.
Where do City go from here?
Looking clueless when not in rhythm, has been a common occurrence for City in the last 2-3 seasons and it is an area they need to get better at, if they are to make strides in the Champions League and transcend themselves to the next level.
Against Spurs, City conceded the first goal at a time when things were going well and the home side kept playing the ball back to Hugo Lloris. Yes, Kyle Walker was indeed offside and the linesman should have ruled it so, but City then could not clear the ball from the danger area after Caballero had made a great save and it fell to Kevin de Bruyne, who played a loose pass to Fernandinho and found Eric Dier coming up with a first time shot. When you are not in the best of nicks, which City certainly are not in at the moment, it is important to not put yourself under pressure by making unforced errors. Also, after going into half-time with the scoreline at 1-1, City did not get hold of the ball soon after the resumption and allowed Spurs, who had the momentum of the game in their favor, to dictate the tempo.
City, for once, need to use Champions League as a platform to get their form back on track. Despite going into last season’s R-16 tie against Barcelona on the back of a 5-0 home win against Newcastle United and this season, registering a morale-boosting win against Palace before facing Juventus, City have not made the most of their Premier League fettle to improve their Champions League pedigree. They go up against Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday and need a win to keep the defending Italian champions and Sevilla, last season’s UEFA Europa League winners, within their sight. They follow it up with a league game against the Magpies at the Etihad, before the international break.
Having time and again proved their ability to go on massive winning streaks, City, with the squad they have at their disposal, are well capable of getting a couple of wins under their belt and kick-starting another winning streak. However, for that to happen, City ought to beat Monchengladbach, who have won just 3 of their 9 games across all competitions so far this season. The Bundesliga side, unlike City, will go into Wednesday night’s fixture on the back of two consecutive wins and Pellegrini’s men simply cannot afford to take them lightly. And as the headline states, City, having lost their last two Premier League games, need to start afresh after an appalling fortnight since the victory at Selhurst Park.