This is a guest post by Howard Hockin, part of the award-nominated BlueMoon podcast and author of This Is How It Felt To Be City, now available on Kindle. He also blogs about City, with wit and insight, here.
Skill, guile, ruthless attacking, fluid movement and devastating interplay, imperious defending and sublime ball control. All characteristics not displayed by Manchester City against Hull City. Despite last week’s defeat, I fully expected a return to normal service and a comfortable home victory, the type that has become the norm in recent seasons. This was a rude awakening.
If last week’s defeat signalled the end of Pellegrini’s honeymoon, then this week was akin to him getting back off the holiday to find he had left the iron on, a burst water pipe and that his cat had deposited a huge poo on the lounge rug.
The line-up provided one surprise, with Clichy dropped for Kolarov. I am amazed that Kolarov is still at the club especially after the Norwich game that closed out last season, and to see him in the starting line-up raised a few eyebrows. Clichy may have been punished for Cardiff’s first goal last week, and perhaps Pellegrini has decided he needs a wake-up call, and that it was safe to make the change at home to a promoted club. And as it turned out, Kolarov played ok, and made one crucial tackle. Clichy is a player I find hard to assess. He hasn’t made many mistakes and has undoubtedly been a top-value buy, but he seems to perform fine without excelling, and has been treading water for some time. Could City do better?
It’s strange how such small changes to a team set-up can leave it looking so disjointed. The formation was a mess, with little understanding between players and for much of the match they played like strangers. Let’s not get arrogant and expect to turn over every “smaller” team we play, but to watch us hanging on at the end until the Toure free kick was bordering on embarrassing.
Does David Silva have a role in this formation? He is less effective out wide, but he has no place in this 4-4-2 of sorts. Pellegrini may have to consider changing the formation to fully utilise some of his players. I doubt the likes of Silva and Aguero are out of form at the moment, more likely that they are struggling to prosper under a new system. Likewise, the Fernandinho and Toure axis continues to underwhelm. But they need time to develop an understanding.
The change at half-time, introducing Negredo, paid dividends. It is ridiculous to suggest that I know 1/100th of what Pellegrini does about football or picking teams, and I don’t see the players in training every day, but it mystifies me that Dzeko is being picked ahead of Negredo. Neither did much wrong pre-season and Dzeko has not been playing badly but Negredo seems to offer more and he is a goal-machine. He has come off the bench three times and scored three legitimate goals, and is stronger and links play better. Hopefully he will start against Stoke – he should relish that challenge.
Where is Stevan Jovetic? It seems he may have been injured, and thus isn’t fully fit, but I have read very little about him. I wouldn’t expect him to start away at Stoke, so it could be some time before we see him in a City shirt.
Time for the weekly discussion about Joe Hart – for all of Hull’s threat, he didn’t have much to do – the decision to punch a couple of crosses was fine by me. A quiet day for him, which was needed. In front of him however, Joleon Lescott didn’t endear himself to a new contract. City’s defensive wobbles continue. Vincent Kompany is treated like the messiah at times, but City could really do with him back by the time the derby rolls round.
City should have had a penalty when Aguero was taken out after a jinxing run. I doubt it’s mentioned in any match reports. That first goal was sublime. It seems we have finally found a free-kick taker, at least for kicks to the left of centre. Now all we need is a corner-kick taker.
Highlight of the day off the field was the self-deprecating chants of the City fans in the 2nd half. If opposition fans continue to mouth these pathetic playground insults, then it’s best to beat them to it.
Hull, like Cardiff, were impressive. Or did City just make them look that way? They show the classic characteristic of a promoted side that goes straight back down – an inability to score goals, something Bruce alluded to after the match. Still, at least he didn’t have to admonish the team on the pitch at half-time.
The uncomfortable start to the season has led to the inevitable reopening of the debate about the decision to sack Roberto Mancini. To repeat myself for the 50th time, Mancini was not sacked for results alone, and there were numerous games last season that were just as bad as the Hull match, but they tended to be away from home. There’s no time in modern football for players to find their feet or managers to implement new ideas. Fans and the media expect immediate returns and a seamless transition, but it doesn’t work like that.
At least I could access the internet at the ground for once. It seems improvements have finally been made. No free pie this time though. Disappointing City. Disappointing.
As I left the ground I heard a tirade from an elderly Hull fan about the evils of money buying success. If only our club could be run with the class and decorum of the Hull Tigers.