Manchester City’s crushing 4-2 defeat at the hands of neighbours and fierce rivals Manchester United on Sunday demonstrates just how far City have fallen over the last 12 months, and is a clear indication that changes need to be made at the Etihad to ensure that City are in a position to challenge for the title again next season.
You don’t have to think back too far to when Manchester United and Louis Van Gaal were being vilified in the media. The former for being a shadow of the side that used to sweep all before them domestically, and the latter for being a clueless manager who had little more in his playbook than a hit and hope long-ball strategy that was anathema to all United had stood for over the last two decades.
Since then, the tables have turned. United are being praised in all corners for their confident style of play, and seem to have stumbled upon a winning formula on which they can build even further for next season. Van Gaal has gone back to being the tactical genius he was lauded as being in the media, before those same people turned against him and wrote him off as a managerial “has been” who belonged in the 90s. How quickly things change.
Manuel Pellegrini seems to be bearing the vast brunt of most of the criticism being cast towards his team, as seeing as he is the man who picks the players and devises the tactics, it is understandable as to why that is the case. However, to blame Pellegrini and Pellegrini alone would be folly and counter productive to City and what their owners are hoping to achieve. There are far more issues to be dealt with at City.
The first of these is that there is a distinct lack of style whenever the side plays. Of course, when you have an abundance of World Class talent at your disposal, occasionally everything will click nicely into place and the team will play beautiful football. This doesn’t happen often enough at City however, and the reason is that they play as eleven individuals rather than as a team. There is no style of playing that you can attribute to Manchester City. Arsenal play a possession based, neat passing game. Chelsea are solid, difficult to break down and quick on the counter attack, whilst Liverpool go for all out attack. Manchester United have been pilloried at times this season due to their perceived long-ball style of play. It may not be attractive, but at least it is a style that can be attached to them – albeit for parts of this season only. How do City play though? I can’t explain it myself. They are so reliant on individual brilliance that the team ethos suffers as a result.
Both Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, usually at odds with each other and at one another’s throats, have agreed categorically that what matters most in football for success to be achieved is the team ethos. Both have stated that they believe too much importance is attached to individual brilliance in the modern game, and Manchester City is a nearly perfect example of how this is a fact.
Man for man, it is possible that City possess superior players to Chelsea. Chelsea however are a far superior team because they play as a team rather than a collection of individuals. When Jose Mourinho jettisoned Juan Mata two season’s ago, it was because he didn’t work enough for the team. He didn’t adhere to what was being asked of him by Mourinho. As a result, he was deemed surplus to requirements and sold to United. United play differently to Chelsea, and as such there is a place in their side for Mata. What City have done however is buy a squad of international calibre players, all of whom want and expect to be in the first team, and then demanded that they win every tournament they enter based purely on the fact that vast sums have been spent on them. If only it were that simple. What City should have done, and could still do, is develop a team. First of all, decide how it is you want the team to play. Work out the sort of players you need in order to have a team that can play the way you want them to, and then go out and get those players. Whether or not the owners will have the patience for this to happen is another matter, and I expect that Pellegrini will be shown the door and his replacement will be expected to perform the same juggling act in order to keep the players happy.
The players also need to take a long hard look at themselves. It was the Manchester derby, and Yaya Toure looked utterly disinterested and didn’t seem to be trying all that hard either. This is the same man who believed he was worthy of Ballon d’Or recognition last season. His efforts this season suggest that the Ballon d’Or shortlisters were right to leave him out. You get the sense with Toure – and I may be wrong here – that he is in it only for himself. He doesn’t care if the side is winning so long as he is getting the recognition and remuneration he deserves. He is not alone in that sense either.
There are also very few players in and around the City set-up who have City in their hearts. James Milner and Joe Hart are probably the only players there who understand what it means to play for City and what it means to the supporters to have the club do well. Vincent Kompany doesn’t lack any passion, but he has gone from calm and assuring presence to a snarling, aggressive calamity, more interested in bickering with referees and teammates than leading the side. Unfortunately, City have been let down by players who are happy to bask in the ambience of success, but want to disappear as soon as things get tough. Until that mindset changes, it doesn’t matter who the manager is.