Time for the City alarmists to get back in their cage
It seems rather strange that so many people have been quick to start writing Manchester City’s Premier League obituary this season, that the Manchester United version hasn’t made it into the planning phase as of yet.
Indeed, before Roberto Mancini’s men kicked off against Sunderland last Saturday, the talk was of a team that were seemingly underprepared, inadequately reinforced and generally underwhelming. Yet despite losing two more games than their Manchester rivals, the men from Old Trafford, appeared devoid of a similar critique.
Of course, the age old grumbles about an inadequate midfield and a distinct lack of a number one between the posts, have attracted a steady stream of denouncements. But that age old theory has been wheeled out for yet another season. Supposedly, this is classic United; a half-decent start or not, they’ll always get their act together after Christmas, won’t they? Or so the theory goes, anyway.
Because regardless of whether you believe such a cliché rings true, it seems mystifying that Manchester City can come in for such a slew of negativity, yet the Red Devils are left posturing on their pedestal. No one can deny that Fergie’s men have been there, done it and got several championship winning jesters hats, when it comes to defending a Premier League title.
But that alone isn’t enough to justify the alarmists that have been circling the Etihad Stadium of late. With both Manchester clubs level on 15 points after seven games, it seems that some of the doom mongers have gone a little quiet since their 3-0 win over Martin O’Neill’s side. This isn’t to say that the men from Eastlands aren’t facing their own form-based issues, but they’ve done no better or no worse than United so far this term.
It’s hardly been the start of champions for Manchester City so far. They remain undefeated, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the entire story of their Premier League beginning. Out of their seven games so far, it perhaps speaks volumes that their last victory over a largely impotent Sunderland side, has constituted their best performance.
Defensively, City have looked like a shadow of their title-winning selves from what we’ve seen this term and poignantly, the Sunderland game also represented their first clean sheet of the season. Mancini’s tinkering with the backline certainly hasn’t helped and Vincent Kompany’s sluggish start, by his comparably high standards, has left them looking uncharacteristically fragile at the back.
But even so, they’ve not looked quite as bad as what some people have suggested. Crucially, they’re continuing to turf results out even if they haven’t completely clicked yet this season. Much has been made of their draws against Liverpool and Arsenal, the first against a team staring at the wrong end of the table and the second, in a home fixture which Mancini’s side were perhaps lucky to get a point out of. But the fact is, they didn’t lose. The difference is, when Manchester United went down 3-2 at home to Spurs, the onus appeared centered around just how well they played in the second half. It appeared that Fergie’s assessment of it being their “best 45 of the season,” was enough to deflect the damage.
But when City played a team of comparable, if not superior quality in Arsenal (at least on current form, anyway) and take a point at home, they appear to come in for a uniformed amount of critique.
The summer transfer market certainly didn’t produce the sort of Daniele De Rossi like signing that Roberto Mancini was hoping for and there is feeling that his reinforcements haven’t particularly boosted the side, or certainly not in the manner Manchester United’s have. Javi Garcia and Matija Nastasic are positive, astute acquisitions and maybe because of their place at the rearguard of the team, they haven’t particularly caught the imagination.
The pairing of Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell are certainly a little more contentious and only time will tell if they have what it takes to really forge an influence on a City side looking for honours at home and abroad. Rodwell’s cameo against Borussia Dortmund suggested that he remains a work in progress. But compared to the blockbuster purchases of Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa, City were always going to struggle to out shimmer their rivals in the transfer window.
Some will argue to the contrary, but City never needed a Robin van Persie and they’d have a job fitting in Shinji Kagawa to their side, too. No team is ever improvement-free, but Mancini already had a superbly talented, title-winning team to prove on and a slow start to the season doesn’t change that. Whether they will be able to progress in the Champions League potentially still hangs in the balance, but don’t let that act as a barometer for their Premier League success. They will be there or there abouts come next May.
Maybe they do lack that air of supremacy and galvanized sense of belief that they carried throughout last season, but it will come as the season goes on. Mancini is trying to evolve his champions ever so slightly, but as we’re seeing so far, there’s no easy way of doing that.
We might still be waiting for their first barnstorming performance of the season, but the signs against Sunderland suggest that City have nearly weathered their early season woes. They might have lacked some of the Van Persie inspired razzmatazz of their chief title rivals, but City aren’t going to get any weaker. Maybe it’s not just the red half of Manchester that are looking forward to Christmas this year.
What do you think about Manchester City’s start to the Premier League season? Far too overblown or is there something there that gives you real cause for concern? Let me know what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me all of your views.