Manchester City really should have put their FA Cup semi-final beyond reasonable doubt in the first half, but instead succumbed to defeat in extra-time and a potentially debilitating extra 30 minutes of football.
It is natural, then, that recriminations happen. Not content with leaving an event to speak for itself, the world wants answers, and especially from Pep Guardiola.
His arrival, a little under a year ago, at the helm of one of England’s top clubs left the weight of expectation on the Catalan’s shoulders, and a trophyless season is not what we were waiting for.
Of course they’re baying for blood.
And yet, this is football. The aftermath of one game is now the build-up to the next one, and sounds and fury are amplified in the vortex of hype in which we are all spinning all the time. City, they say, are now in danger of missing out on a top four spot and a place in next season’s Champions League. It makes you wonder if those same voices saying the same thing when City beat Southampton 3-0 in their last league game?
You can't really spin this either. At best now, City's season is no trophies and scraping into top four. That's big under-performance.
— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) April 23, 2017
— Pete Quinn (@CoachPeteQuinn) April 23, 2017
Football inhabits a bizarre corner of the modern world where it seems to sit on a see-saw between extremes, riding up or down depending on the hour. It is unsurprising – indeed, it is even justified – that responses to City’s failure to make an FA Cup final are thoroughly negative, but it is baffling that their top four credentials are called into question on the back of an FA Cup defeat. It is a strange category mistake.
The only relevance the FA Cup has on the top four is tiredness after the match. City played an extra half hour of football whilst their biggest challengers for the top four, Manchester United played only 90 minutes on Sunday. There is, perhaps, a mental blow, too, though motivation shouldn’t be an issue for a Manchester derby. That’s the height of the relevance, really. After two victories and six goals in their last two Premier League outings, City didn’t really look like dropping out until the overexcited aftermath of Sunday’s Wembley disappointment.
There are other reasons to speculate on why City won’t beat United on Thursday night, of course. The likes of Leroy Sane, Kevin de Bruyne and Vincent Kompany played from start to finish, while David Silva came off injured. You may also point out that if United win the derby, City will drop to fifth place, though their game in hand over Liverpool could bring them back into a Champions League place.
But all of those things were likely to be true before Guardiola’s side lost to Arsenal.
With the exception of extra time – though it was also always possible – City were going to have to play a game on Sunday before playing again four days later in a crunch match. The league mathematics are still the same, and the danger is still the same. City were never assured a top four spot, nor are they now any less likely to get it because of defeat to Arsenal.
City’s win over Southampton tipped the see-saw to positivity around the club, whilst defeat on Sunday tipped it in completely the other extreme. You wonder what victory on Thursday night will do, then. Is the title race still on?