Date:Sunday March 9 2014
The Etihad Campus positively glowed in the sunshine as the year`s warmest day set itself to herald City`s first trophy of the season into its new home. And the objective was also to set the scene for City`s next march to Wembley.
With the semi-final draw already made and the winner of this match lined up to play Arsenal, which suited the Pedmachine, City only had to negotiate their way past a Championship side who they already beaten comprehensively under Owen Coyle in the Capital One Cup but who conversely under the capable stewardship of Roberto Martinez, had eliminated them in the Final of last year`s competition.
City always welcomes back to the Etihad its favourite sons of the past. In the nineties, there was probably none more favourite than "Der Bomber", Uwe Rosler, welcomed with the inevitable "Uwe`s grandad bombed the Stretford End". Today, though it was his granddad that lit the fuse under Fortress Etihad, reducing it to rubble, but it was Uwe himself, proving beyond doubt what an excellent football manager he is turning out to be in a way that systematically the former Stretford have proved themselves incapable.
Pellegrini fielded a bit of a mix-and-match eleven, with the proven attackers of Negredo and Aguero up front, Navas out wide on the right and Yaya, Nasri and Garcia in the engine room. It was the selection at the back that was to prove City`s major undoing today. Rested was Kompany, Zabaleta and Kolarov, in came Clichy, Richards and Lescott with the disaster-in-waiting Demichelis, who is proving to be a sort of Pellegrini love-child, somehow keeping his place despite being responsible for a series of errors recently, all of which seem to end up in City`s net today left to the guardianship of Pantilimon.
Whichever way you look at it this side should have been capable of defeating a team from a lower division, but despite having almost all of the play for the opening half-hour, they mustered nothing of any consequence and Emerson Boyce ably marshalled his charges in exactly the same way as he did in last year`s Cup Final.
Then out of nowhere, Wigan sprang out of defence hitting City`s right, weakened by the absence of Zabaleta and the inclusion of the please-get-rid, Richards. Fortune got into the gap between Richards and Demichelis, diligently skipped past the Argentino and was brought crashing to the ground inside the box. Lightning definitely striking twice in the same spot in yet another important Cup Tie at the Etihad. Demichelis has the turning circle of a ferry boat in Dover Harbour and it is little wonder that Fortune, much more fleet of foot found it easy to get something.
Altrincham and District Referees Association`s finest most recent son, Anthony Taylor hesitated then pointed to the spot. Gomez left Pantilimon grabbing handfuls of fresh air as his own hands pumped the air in recognition of him having put his side in front against the run of play.
After last week`s showing at Wembley there was nothing to get nervous about was there? We all know that Premier League sides can defend for so long and run out of steam in the final straight before they succumb to City`s superior fitness and sharper strikers. And of course the Pie Eaters are only a Championship side.
Still City couldn`t organise any sort of attack to threaten the Wigan goal and just about all the Carson had to contend with was how much time Taylor would allow him to waste unpunished whilst he cautioned Nasri for kicking the ball away in frustration. Half time arrived with no indentations at all at the Wigan end of the field, leaving the fans targeting Taylor for his decision-making which in their opinion favourably supported Wigan.
The start of the second might well in many matches be "City time", but today it wasn`t to be. Wigan once again got themselves in down their left. Richards and Demichelis were all over the place allowing a weak cross along the six-yard line and behind Lescott. Clichy was caught snoozing and clearly did not see or expect Perch to get a toe in front of him and prod the ball home for 2-0.
Never mind, there would be a Watford-style revival and City would win 4-2 wouldn`t they? Well not on this showing. In fact it was 62 minutes before City registered what could be described as a shot on target and even then it was a Dzeko header, he had replaced, Negredo soon after Wigan`s second goal, and it hit the inside of the post and rebounded behind Silva, who had replaced Navas. Milner had also been sent on replacing Yaya.
City now realised they had a game on their hands and with an hour gone they were showing no real signs of breaking the resolute Wigan rearguard. Then after 66 minutes, Richards finally created himself some space down the right, angling the ball back in the direction of Nasri who coolly drilled home for 2-1. At last we though…game on. In fact it was pretty much game over as City still couldn`t generate the breaks they needed to get open, although if they did it almost always fell to the hopelessly out-of-form Dzeko to either stick in Level 2 or not be quick enough event to do that, although on one occasion Boyce made sensational tackle under pressure from Dzeko only inches away from his own line.
My own belief with the Wigan penalty decision was that if it would have been at the other end it wouldn`t have been given and the proof came into the pudding when Richards for once surged into the box, saw a late two-footed tackle heading his way and took evasive action. That there was intent was in no doubt. If a player leaves the ground two feet at the ready the intention is always a foul. Taylor took the view that Richards wasn`t impeded and the chance once again passed City by.
Stung into action City tried everything they could but nothing would come off. Everything was an inch closer to a Wigan defender and frustrations became greater and greater as the afternoon drew to a close. Taylors decision to add on five minutes of stoppage time didn`t help much as City spent most of that time giving away throw-ins and waiting for ages for Wigan to take them. Even when Nasri presented the ball on the six yard line for Carson to take a goal kick, Carson dulyt moved it some distance away to eat up more valuable seconds to the chagrin of the Blues but as usual seemingly un-noticed by Mr Taylor.
So the Latics closed out the match to earn an exceptional 2-1 victory. It was a very creditable performance by Uwe`s men and just as they did in last year`s Final, they set about their work with a plan, kept to it and got the rewards they deserved.
I said at half time in last week`s Capital One Cup Final that at 1-0 down City`s season was hanging by a thread and that an Arsenal-like collapse was on the way. Well the Gooners ably disposed of Everton on Saturday to earn their place at Wembley for the semi-final and all city, so far have to show for a season that promised so much is the Capital One Cup, the poorest relation in terms of the RedTop Quadruple.
With City effectively out of the Champions League, needing to win at least 3-1 in the Camp Nou on Wednesday, and now 9 points adrift of Chelsea in the Barclays Premier League, the season is in danger of running its course very quickly. The Clown Prince Mourinho will point to City having three games in hand and therefore able to eclipse his team`s nine point lead, plus City have a superior goal difference which as was the case in 2011-12, could be the difference come the middle of may, but the Pedmachine would much prefer to have those nine points in the bag and not to have to rely on getting them against Sunderland and Aston Villa, both of whom have beaten City this season plus of course Stretford`s finest, who, of course, haven`t.
In my view Pellegrini once again underestimated a team from lower down the pecking order, which has been his chief undoing this season. Playing reduced strength line-ups at teams near the bottom of the Premier League has seen City slip up badly at Cardiff, Aston Villa and Sunderland and also drop points at Stoke and Norwich. Here against Wigan he thought he could put out eleven wheelie bins and win. Little did he know that the eleven he put out would actually perform like wheelie bins, or is that a disservice to the said wheelie bins?
For me he should have played Kompany and Zabaleta and even found a place for Milner, who at least did put some effort in when he came on, and gone for this match. Instead he for some reason seems to believe the Barcelona can be beaten 3-1 on their home turf and has clearly saved his big guns for that match.
The truth is that only Lescott, Garcia, Nasri and in the second half Milner came out of this match with any real credit. Aguero hardly got a sniff unless he came deep for the ball, Negredo and later Dzeko hardly contributed anything, Yaya was frankly awful as was Demichelis, Richards and Clichy. Pantilimon had nothing to do but visited the back of his net more times than Carson.
I would prefer to see Lescott start in the Camp Nou instead of Demichelis, but we all know what will happen there.
After Catalonia we go to Hull City, where Steve Bruce, once a manager at Wigan who had the indian sign over City in days gone by. Bruce is the one ex-Stretford who does seem to have done a gone job in the management stakes and will similarly organise his defence to shut out an attack that a few weeks ago couldn`t stop scoring and now can`t stop hardly scoring. With Hull themselves still in a precarious position will Pellegrini again select a below-strength team after their exertions in the Champions League in midweek, and will City once again yield points to a bottom third team? Just how can city stick six past Arsenal and Spurs, seven past Norwich, four past Moyes`s Muppets and then give up ground against the division`s poorer teams?
It is not a mystery to me. It is simply a manager in his first year in the Barclays Premier League thinking it all runs like La Liga, which is essentially a pub league with two good teams. You field your best eleven against Barcelona and Real Madrid and field anyone else again the rest and you should get a result. Sadly Manuel it doesn`t work like that in the Premier League. Every match presents a challenge. You underestimate that challenge and you come up empty. City can afford zero slip-ups now in the league and they still have to play away at Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and Stretford, as well as negotiating tricky home fixtures against teams struggling at the wrong end of the table. Field a weakened team? Not if you want to add the title to the Capital One Cup amigo mio.
A man-of the-match for today`s debacle is hard to find. Nasri maybe for his persistence and effort. Maybe Garcia for some excellent midfield tackling and at least showing a commitment that was missing earlier in the season. Maybe also Lescott for an unhurried performance in central defence which should get him a night`s work in Barcelona. Other than that it was a miserable afternoon for 43000 City fans in the sell-out crowd at the Etihad today. Some of you will no doubt take me to task over my ongoing assessment of Richards. I was happy to remove the term "lollipop mand" from my description of Garcia and even Kolarov has proved me wrong so far this season, as I had him destined for the exit chute, but nothing about Richards endears me to him. He did try a bit today and set up the goal, but I am not seeing enough that makes me say that he is any kind of future. With the World Cup taking place this year he should be making absolutely sure he puts in a shift to try and get himself there, especially as his only serious competition would be Johnson from Liverpool, but the pennies don`t seem to drop.
While the Pie Eaters sang their hearts out and cheered their heroes on to Wembley a stunned silence shepherded the Blue Mooners out onto the plazas and car parks. Like the Pedmachine, they too were shell shocked!
Date:Sunday March 9 2014
Richards' City Career Almost Over (Monday September 1 2014)
Outgoings No Incomings (Monday September 1 2014)
Another Dramatic City Deadline Day? (Monday September 1 2014)
Transfer Deadline Day Live Blog (Monday September 1 2014)
The Ped Report.....City 0-1 Stoke City (Sunday August 31 2014)
Pellegrini - We Lacked Creativity (Saturday August 30 2014)
Stats: Manchester City v Stoke City (Saturday August 30 2014)
Team News: City v Stoke (Friday August 29 2014)
No Injury Concerns Ahead Of Stoke (Friday August 29 2014)
City's Fourth Champions League Quest Begins (Thursday August 28 2014)
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