Saturday, January 24, 2015

QUALITY IN DEPTH

Manchester City 0 Middlesbrough 2
All hail the Cup that runneth over and spills unmentionable stuff all over your going-out trousers.

There will be some who bemoan the fact that Manchester City's players only arrived back from their warm weather training ("lucrative Middle East friendly" when translated into Sanskrit) the day before this game and - in fact - it is written in the Bumper Book of Elijah, that "he who cometh out of the desert and doth not give himself enough time to empty his plimsoles of sand, will fall into a deep pool of his own excrement. Try telling Fernando Reges and Dedryck Boyata about that just at the moment.

And if you do, then tell Captain Vincent too.

City carved out enough chances in a lively first half to have been well ahead, despite the sand-filled (or was it cement?) boots. You got the distinct impression that the deeply fragrant Phil Dowd could be a game changer with his nonchalant waving away of a City penalty for hand ball, but, in the end Middlesbrough didn't need him. They did it all by themselves (with minimal help from a troublingly obliging City defence), and with something to spare too.

The second half saw quite the most eye-watering transformation since Frank Maloney shipped up in Harley Street. City, nonchalant to the point of being criminally negligent, suddenly looked like long flights in and out of the promised land did mean something after all.

There were culprits all over the pitch, so it would be childish to pick out Kompany, Boyata and Fernando for special mention, but Saturday evening was never a time to be completely grown up, so let's do just that. Kompany did not look fit, Boyata did what he always does and Fernando's grim antics will have made some people pine for Javier Garcia, never mind Nigel de Jong.

City became more ragged and less convincing as time dripped by.

The thought crossed gently through the mind that Manuel Pellegrini is still to make a convincing purchase in the transfer market. All of City's Big Football Men were brought in under Roberto Mancini. Yaya, David Silva and Aguero all arrived on the Italian's watch, whilst the currently strangely diminished Kompany came in under Mark Hughes. Yes, those were the days of building the powerbase, but equivalent amounts have been spent since then on the likes of Fernandinho and Mangala with far smaller returns. Maybe FFP has destroyed the club's ability to bid for the real superstars, but the calibre and capability of new recruits is clearly on a different scale these days.

There is something to be said for having two players of equal ability for each position, but City have clearly not managed to purchase this dream.


Where does this all leave City then? Well, after an equally limp exit from the League Cup to Newcastle and a widening gap at that top of the Premier League, some might say its time to concentrate on the Champions League. That of course, sounds like the man in the pub making plans to take Demi Moore down to The Golden Dragon for a steaming hot plate of chicken chop suey, but it is suddenly the only competition where City will start in February with a clean bill of health.

Ironically, it is also the only competition where an upward trend can be noticed. The 3-2 skipping-out-of-the-grave win against Bayern and the amazingly adroit showing in Rome pulled the club through to the knockout phases as only the 7th team in Champions League history to qualify from the initial groups after failing to win any of their first 4 games. That statistic certainly has something of the night about it and City will need to be quite something again if they want to put anything more than a small twig in Barcelona's spokes. Still, it will be nice starting that tie as the continental version of Middlesbrough entering the grey precincts of Manchester in the FA Cup.

Expectations low, output high.

In the meantime, we will enjoy the view of Bradford City and Palace and Leicester and West Brom in the 5th round. We will wait to see if Cambridge and Preston can join them in the world's most revered cup competition and secretly inside we will chuckle that the old pot can still throw up all these dramatic, romantic storylines that mean we can never take it - or the opponents it throws up - for granted.

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