Should you be of a non-Manchester City persuasion it’s probably been tempting these past few weeks to check in on a City forum or two to delight in the apocalyptic meltdown as blues rant, fight and wail at Pep Guardiola’s masterplan unravelling before their eyes.
If so you’ll have been disappointed. I’ve seen much bigger states of emergency called for a solitary poor performance under Manuel Pellegrini or the club’s recent decision to ‘modernise’ the badge.
It’s hardly an online field of buttercups of course as – to put it mildly – there has been much to discuss with City languishing in fifth and looking like a shadow of the team that even last season were a shadow of a team. This was supposed to be City’s long-awaited ascension into Pep-heaven. This was supposed to be the beginning of something very special indeed, a trophy-hauling utopia of intricate, aesthetically-pleasing, meticulously-designed football. Instead there has only been chaos, disjointed performances and a defence more porous and vulnerable than ever before. Add in two horror-shows at Leicester and Everton and that’s a steep, sharp realignment of reality to acclimatise to in a short space of time. From ascendency to farce.
So naturally Bravo’s suitability and aging full-backs employed as centre-mids and most of all Pep himself has been debated, and fiercely so in many quarters. Yet reality – or at least the present incarnation of reality – hasn’t yet hit home, meaning that instead of keyboard-thrashing ire the vibe is predominantly one of disbelief and confusion. Hope, too, has come on as an early sub in place of expectation.
This is not a crisis then. Not in-house at least. It is more a crisis of confidence.
That is until this Saturday teatime when City, still bearing the scars of Goodison Park, take on a Spurs side that is firing on all cylinders having been developed to near-completion under Mauricio Pochettino. In any circumstances this would be an onerous challenge: Tottenham have lost only twice this term and those times away at Chelsea and Manchester United. The north London side have successfully meshed the ability to work exceptionally hard as a unit while allowing individuals to flourish and consequently have the scent of a famous title in their nostrils. This weekend however, for City, they are infinitely more than just difficult opposition. They are the possible executioners to a dream.
I am typically loathe to place too much emphasis on ninety minutes of football and feel there are too many definitive short-term judgements made in the modern media, conclusions that incongruously alter each and every week. But the importance of this single fixture should not be under-estimated. For City it is defining. It’s not vital, or crucial, or a ‘six-pointer’. It is defining.
For one thing a defeat would irrefutably end their title aspirations and while an argument could be made for this being Guardiola’s first season in the Premier League and a season of adaptation, we need only look back to late September with City flying from the blocks boasting maximum points to see how mind-boggling that would be. From being crowned champions-elect after six league games to falling out of contention before the end of January is the starkest of declines.
It’s worthy of note, too, that it was Spurs who ended City’s early dominance. At a time when media and supporters alike were questioning how best to find a spell to slow down Pep’s alchemy Pochettino’s men ruthlessly pulled back the curtain to reveal it was all just gadgets and mechanics held together by gaffer tape. They dismantled City and showed the way for others to do likewise and another loss here would illustrate that City have made no progressive strides for four months; that they have been exposed ever since.
Lastly, and perhaps most damaging of all in the long-term, a fifth defeat in nine league games would prove to be the breaking point within. The present wrestling of hope and disappointment that is torturing each supporter would give way to anger and the exaggerated rhetoric that accompanies it. We would begin to feel catfished; duped; short-changed. We would begin to turn and thus make an already wavering vision ten times harder to fulfil.
I am typically loathe to place too much emphasis on ninety minutes of football, but everything can be placed on this. A long awaited-for dream. A project years in the making. A great man’s reputation. Everything.