Manchester City’s humiliation at the hands of Liverpool came as a huge surprise to most people who expected at least a close game, but less of a surprise to Manchester City fans – in all honesty, this defeat represents the latest in a long line of poor performances at the hands of what must surely be described as a bogey team for City.
That doesn’t mean that City shouldn’t be concerned by this performance. This is a team who have – and certainly should have – title ambitions this season. What’s more, City are fighting on at least two fronts, the Premier League and the Champions League, and are probably looking to win the League Cup and the FA Cup too.
So to have suffered their second 4-1 defeat of the season at the hands of another team who pressed them with urgency isn’t just another humiliating defeat, but a worrying sign that shows City’s vulnerability all too clearly.
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The team spirit isn’t in question. The fact that they suffered another heavy defeat isn’t a sign of fraction in the side. The reports of a first-team meeting to clear the air and sooth grievances in the wake of the defeat is a good thing, not a sign of division.
And there are other mitigating factors to defeat – Sergio Aguero will get fitter and sharper as the weeks go on, Wilfried Bony will come back, Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi will resume their blossoming partnership at some point.
The fact that City had Mangala and Demichelis as a back two against Liverpool was like trying to build a dam out of chocolate.
The calmness and composure at the back were missing as Liverpool pressued City’s defenders, but that begs an obvious question – are City strong enough in their lower orders to withstand the kinds of injuries that happen during the course of a season, especially a season where you’re fighting on so many fronts?
The answer there remains to be seen. But if this were cricket we’d be talking about the later batsmen, the guys who come in after the starters are gone and simply try to hold on for as long as possible. There’s no way Wilfried Bony is as good as Sergio Aguero, no way that Jesus Navas – for all his effort and industry and pace – is as good as David Silva. They’re different players, sure, but they’re there to add new options to the team for when things aren’t working out initially. They’re more plan B than plan A.
I don’t mean to be too harsh on those second choice players at City, nor do I mean to be harsh on Pellegrini. It’s not his fault that the second string isn’t as good as his first string – after all, that’s why they’re second string.
City have spent a lot of money on some very talented young players over the summer. The youth production is as good as it’s ever been, players like kelechi Iheanacho, George and Maffeo have been given their spot in the first team this season, adding to the new young blood that City have acquired, such as Patrick Roberts, Fabian Delph and, of course, Raheem Sterling. City’s ageing squad has been overhauled, and this season is only the beginning.
But short term, the cracks that have appeared twice already this season just make you wonder if this team is strong enough to cope with injuries and fixture pile up.
Sergio Aguero will get fitter, but will you bet against him getting injured again? If they lose David Silva again, if they lose Vincent Kompany again, if they lose Yaya Toure, will City be able to cope?
Defeats to Spurs and Liverpool this season expose City’s weaknesses. If that weakness is the squad, then even though the drive towards youth is a good thing, it doesn’t bode well for the latter stages of this season. If that weakness is the style of play, the lack of calmness on the ball and a real vulnerability to heavy pressing, then City have a real problem. Because you can bet that other teams will notice that too.
It might not be that Liverpool are City’s bogey team – it might just be that being hassled and harried is City’s biggest vulnerability.