After a brief respite at Sunderland in midweek, when City walked through the first thirty-five minutes then hit the off button and went to bed, Pellegrini's side turned back towards what they have done best in a history of wildly fluctuating fortunes, fabricating a sizeable silk purse into a sow's arse in a display at Spurs that smelled first of roses, then of a heavily steaming midden.
The entire history of Manchester City football club was laid bare for all to see in another 90 minutes of breathtakingly controlled-then-brittle football.
A first half of total dominance at White Hart Lane was rounded off by a linesman offering the home side an equaliser that had seen a critical part of the build up stray a clear yard offside. The linesman, with his flag half up then down again was in front of the action, bang in line and close to play. It was a clear case of the unthinkable joining the unfeasible and making the improbable happen. Jokes about the poor man's eyesight would just not be enough at this juncture. Needless to say, I hope he hasn't seen it all on his tv.
With City reeling from the shock, they were caught cold at the start of the second half and proceeded to disintegrate in alarming fashion.
A team that is not ruthless enough, managed by a man who is too charming (read gentle) was left being given the run around by a suddenly exuberant Tottenham side who quite possibly could not believe their good luck. On these occasions, when the sun emerges and Spurs players realise their luck is very much in, all those flaky, lightweight midfielders that Tottenham specialise in, suddenly turn into a freeform version of Eder-Falcao-Zico. True to form Eriksen shone and the normally peripheral Lamela, always on the look out for a chance to back flip the ball when a solid five yard pass will do, turned into match winner extraordinaire.
Previously, against Juventus, chances had come and gone to bolster City's one-goal lead, but eventually the wily Italians plugged away and got two sucker punch goals to take the three points. It had all been, in fact, slightly unlucky and talk afterwards was of City's European jinx, their European mental block and their European inexperience. This in fact had been their European Soundtrack, starting with boos, filling up with cheers and ending with stunned silence.
A clear one-off considering the blistering form the team was in.
Against West Ham, City started like a man sleepwalking towards the top of the stairs, again received two sucker punches and wobbled, fizzy-headed into a 2nd half comeback where five goals could have been scored on another occasion, perhaps even more. Adrian, the West Ham keeper who had sieved six in the Capital One Cup semi-final on the same ground, suddenly acquired steel-rimmed gloves. It had been such a wildly one-sided second half, with every single one of Jesus Navas' 312 crosses either cannoning back off James Tomkins' gigantic shins or ballooning away off somebody or other. Not one fell kindly to lurking City players on the edge of the box. The Law of Averages was being liberally trashed. Such a strange game could sadly not be called a one-off, as we had already added that moniker to the Juventus match.
A similar scenario wrote itself in bold capital letters in London, as City totally dominated possession and chances in a one-sided first half, before the linesman took his opportunity for nationwide exposure bringing unlikely parity to the game at half time. If that one idiotic moment sank City for the second half, then the winning mentality we had all presumed played a part in the four trophies won since 2010, might not have been quite so decisive after all.
Spurs away was evidently not a one-off either, sadly.
Looking at the one game won in this 4 game slump, against an execrable Sunderland side so down on their luck
|Where have all the goalscorers gone?|
Before the first goal, a penalty put away by Aguero, the same player had already missed three chances to score in nine minutes. After the barrage, Aguero again missed, this time, from a yard out after rounding the goalkeeper. The kind of effort that even one of the Flying Ameobi brothers might gobble up. The same sort of chance that Navas had made a royal fist of at Crystal palace, when he suffered anterior lobe misfunction when faced with the task of swatting the ball into an unguarded net from five yards.
A match that should have been 5-0 at half time was thus 4-0 and, by the end, after a somnambulant 2nd period, 4-1. An absolute away rout to some, but, look a little closer and it bears many of the characteristics of the other three "unique, one-off defeats".
The argument is thus that the game on Wearside revealed the same tendencies as the other three in this increasingly distressing mini run of grande collapso. Although it looks on paper like a crunching away win, it was profligate in the extreme, as were in particular the West Ham second half and the Tottenham first half. Juventus too will probably admit to have looked optimistically at a draw after the first 57 minutes at the Etihad, yet won it in the end.
Put basically, City have had a sudden slew of important injuries, have shuffled the centre backs too often and have seen games change unluckily at critical moments, but - if the strikers had been on top of their jobs - none of these other factors would have mattered.
All eyes turn to Sergio Aguero. Never in his time at City has he looked or played like this. The odd game where his touch was not 100%, yes. A match when a defender has played him just right, certainly, but never have we seen four straight games where he has continually misfired like a novice. Shinners, too many touches, slips, slides and running into brick walls, the entire average striker's repertoire has been on full public show. It may be sacrilege to even consider criticising one of City's Crown Jewels, but Aguero has gone suddenly and fatally off the boil.
last 2 games: CITY- 49 attempts on goal, 3 converted.
Shorn of David Silva's threaded passes, Aguero looks short on ideas for the first time, short on goals for the first time and short on confidence now that a discernible pattern has started to develop. Whether he was rushed back too quickly from injury is unclear. Scott Dann's assault at Selhurst Park in the end did not remove him from more than the Juventus match and even then he appeared when it was clear that Wilfried Bony would have needed a fork lift truck to aid him to get through on goal.Bony, it has been noted, is no Edin Dzeko when it comes to hiding average performances with a crucial goal or two. Just average all round from Wilfried so far.
Here again a strange pattern develops. Injuries have dogged City for seasons, seemingly more significantly than most of their title rivals. Of these, of late, how many appear to be happening just before the game begins? Silva limped out of West Ham seconds before the start, Kompany - already not 100% fit - tweaked something in the warm-up at Spurs. Are City putting too much pressure on the big game players to be present for the big games? And if so, why, with such a broad and talented squad at the manager's disposal?
Injuries, lack of form, loss of form, bizarre refereeing decisions, fired up opponents, bad luck. Sounds like a normal enough season to most people, but perhaps not to be expected in a tiny four game snippet of the season.
Only one possibility remains and this will only return to the agenda of the mainstream press now that City have hit a losing streak and will chime loud enough if City fail in Germany this midweek. Manuel Pellegrini, the gentle, cajoling presence on City's touchline. The man who shakes hands with the manager who called him a c**t a year ago, who shakes hands with the linesman, who has just torpedoed his team's chances and who says at the end of the day "if we don't play well I don't expect us to win". We all like a good guy, but the truth is in football it's the nasty win at all costs types that often win in the end.
Whether he or Scott Dann or James Tonkins are the main reasons for City's malaise, the chatter will turn into something else if Monchengladbach explodes in City's faces in similar fashion.