I hate international breaks. It’s just not the same watching international matches as it is watching your own team. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’d like England to do well, being English and all. I’d like to see them win and I will watch the game. But the sense of victory isn’t the same and the disappointment of a defeat isn’t the same. The mundanely of a dour draw, though, is heightened beyond belief. Nevertheless, I just can’t get as excited about England as I can Manchester City.
Even if Britain does the funniest live international football, as ITV1 once told me.
And normally, this is a weekend I wouldn’t be looking forward to, even if Wales are the competitive opposition. I’m just not anticipating the kick off with the same level of eagerness as I would be if it were Manchester City vs. anybody else. It could be one of the worst teams ever scheduled to play City, but I’d still look forward to it (though enough about the FA Cup semi finals for now – fnar!).
But this weekend, I am looking forward to the break. Rightly or wrongly, City have looked tired in recent weeks and the team’s form has clearly suffered as a result of many games plus several injuries: eight points in seven games, an abject performance in Ukraine (plus the subsequent elimination from the competition) and just about scraping through in another cup. In fact, I don’t remember a good City performance since West Brom were dismantled at Eastlands back at the start of February.
Other teams have to play a lot of games and a squad that has had millions spent on it should be able to cope with playing roughly three games a week. But splashing a ton of money on wages isn’t going to make players less tired and nor can City have an endless squad with the 25-man rule in play. That being said, though, other top managers and teams moan about fixture congestion, so City are only joining in.
City have played twenty games in about eleven weeks. 78 days have passed between the win over Blackpool on New Years’ Day and the defeat against Chelsea last Sunday. Wedged in there were easily avoidable cup replays (there’s nobody else to blame than ourselves for fixture congestion if it takes two games to get past lower league opposition), difficult ties to foreign countries (where the results gained (or not gained, as the case may be) meant a full strength side was needed at home to get a result), and return legs where we have all the hard work still to do with little squad rotation.
Throw in a few injuries, a failed drugs test and Pablo Zabaleta needing compassionate leave and it’s not an ideal situation. In fact, my fellow City fan and BlueMoon Podcast contributor Howard Hockin felt that getting knocked out of the Europa League could actually be a blessing in disguise for City – though that is something we will have to wait and see.
This international break couldn’t have come at a better time for City and their players. True, a sizeable chunk of them are jetting off to play for their respectful countries, but it’s still a break nonetheless. Further, it’s a break aided by the fact that City don’t play until the Sunday in the next round of Premier League fixtures.
And, including that game, City will have nine (hopefully ten, looking at the FA Cup) games in 49 days. A far fewer number of fixtures should hopefully give players time to recover from knocks and minor injuries without another game coming so soon and, following from this international break, there should be almost a full squad available to Roberto Mancini come the visit of Sunderland.
Although the status of the newly injured Micah Richards does seem to be concerning. Not simply because of right-back troubles for City, but because Richards has stepped up his game and won his place in the side when it was up for grabs. He’s faced a storm of criticism from City fans in the past 18 months and he hasn’t looked like he was going to fulfil the potential he showed when he burst on the scene. Not anymore, though: one mistake against Chelsea apart, Richards has had a near perfect second half of the season.
In fact, it was astounding that Fabio Capello managed not to pick him for the England squad, given Glen Johnson’s been covering left back for Liverpool and he hasn’t been in the best of form defensively when playing in his correct position for club or country. And, if he had have been picked for the full squad, he wouldn’t have gotten injured playing for the under 21s either.
With the ability to rotate one or two players more and fewer games in a short space of time, hopefully this will turn City’s sketchy form around. The form since the turn of 2011 has been like… well, like a Manchester City form book, actually, but that’s not what us fans have been used to recently.
Slipping away from third place and hanging on to fourth in the face of Tottenham does feel like the season could come crashing into another playoff between the two sides, especially now their fixture at Eastlands has been scheduled for the penultimate midweek of the season. Though while Tottenham remain in the Champions League, their form hasn’t been as good as it was last season, so I (and I presume every other City fan) will have their fingers crossed that a Champions League finish is secured well before the evening of Tuesday 10 May.
This is City we’re talking about, though. So I wouldn’t bank on it.