This weekend Bournemouth face the trip every side recently promoted to the Premier League fears – the long trip to the Etihad Stadium.
It would seem as though they lacked some fundamental quality if they didn’t fear a trip to Manchester City to face what is surely the league’s strongest side – or at least its strongest attack. But there’s really no point in playing Premier League football if you’re going to fear away days like that. Surely that’s the whole point of Bournemouth’s Premier League adventure.
But since they last played a Premier League game, The Cherries’ trepidation levels will have taken a nosedive and then risen again measurably.
Over the international break, Manchester City have lost Aleksandar Kolarov, David Silva and Sergio Aguero to injury, giving The Cherries a real boost. Until they realise they themselves are missing Max Gradel – the man who scored more goals than Zlatam Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani in Ligue 1 between January and the end of last season – Tyrone Mings – the record signing – Callum Wilson – the main goalscoring threat – and now Tommy Elphick – the captain!
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So you can forgive them for still being frightened at the prospect at a trip to the Etihad. But they’re still playing a weakened City side, and that’s a bonus.
Aguero is the most noticeable of City’s superstars whether he plays or not. He’s the one who gets the goals, and his composure in front of goal, his threat and his ability to make something out of nothing will be sorely missed. But David Silva is arguably a greater loss to the team, especially this weekend.
Silva is City’s main creative outlet. The explosivity in the side comes from those around Silva. De Bruyne, Sterling, Aguero,and Toure – none of those players have the ability to slow the game down to a snail’s pace when they have the ball before threading through a ball that sends one of the explosive players through on goal. SIlva’s ability to create something for someone else, even in the tightest of spaces or the unlikeliest of circumstances is astounding. And very important for Manuel Pellegrini.
In fact, the stats show that with Silva, City pick up an average of 2.2 points a game, and without him they can only manage 2. Without Aguero, City also suffer, but in the 32 games where Aguero has not played, City have only lost four times, compared to the 13 they’ve lost in 70 games without Silva.
Yet as big a loss as these two players will be for Manchester City, the loss also shows Pellegrini’s embarrassment of riches. Without Aguero, Wilfried Bony – the Premier League’s top scorer for the 2014 calendar year – will step into the Argentinian’s shoes, or possibly a pair a few sizes bigger. Without Silva, Jesus Navas or even Samir Nasri will come into the fold. City are losing two big players, that much isn’t in doubt, but they’ll be replaced by two players who would probably walk into most Premier League sides.
Bournemouth will have an experience this weekend rather like the one Gandhi had when he met the King of England – when asked if it was proper that he should meet the king dressed only in a loin cloth, Gandhi replied, ‘the King was wearing enough for both of us.’
But despite the injuries showing off City’s strength in depth, it also shows their vulnerability. The Citizens are without their king Sergio Aguero, but this weekend in particular it will be the wizard David Silva they miss even more.
Against a newly promoted side who will defend fervently and try to come away with a point or even nick a win, City will have to be patient and look for an opening. Without Silva to bring patience, assuredness and a want of a left foot, City should still have enough to win the game, but you wonder if they’ll have the wherewithal to break down a stubborn defence. Without Silva, will Sterling or Navas try to do too much on their own? Kevin De Bruyne has looked very good for City so far this season, but he too is one of the men getting onto the end of the Silva-inspired moves and not always the one instigating it.
And then there’s the question of Bony – he hasn’t yet been able to fill City’s Aguero-shaped hole whenever he has been called upon having scored only two goals for City since his arrival in January.
Without Silva and Aguero, City still look as strong as any team in the league. The players they have, the name-recognition, the pace and power and the guile and skill should see City through most football matches even without their best players.
But even though these injuries show City’s strength, it also shows a remarkable fragility to the team too. Silva and Aguero are huge players, and City don’t cope well without them. Even when he sees that City’s lineup on Saturday afternoon is strong enough on paper to beat any side in the World on a good day, Eddie Howe will still be licking his lips at the prospect of facing City without Aguero and Silva.
What was probably a routine fixture for City is now a potential banana skin.