Man City must get angry as misfires against top clubs derail their season
Manchester City will face Tottenham at the Etihad next weekend safe in the knowledge that so far, they have failed to beat any of the teams around them in the top six. This rather strange but revealing statistic is beginning to clang loudly like a church bell as the season proceeds into its crucial stages.
Worse than that, they will enter this critical match with the resounding home defeat by Leicester fresh in their minds. Leicester, the rank outsiders, who were permitted the space and time to look like elegant world beaters in thrashing City on their own patch. The truth as always is somewhere in between: Claudio Ranieri's energetic side may be in the form of their lives but City's apparently abject preparation for what was a top of the table clash was also telling.
Manuel Pellegrini has since said that "he didn't see the defeat coming." If this is so, he may need to visit an opticians fairly rapidly as many who have witnessed City's mildly disturbing progress through the 2015-16 season could have seen it coming from some distance. A fast-raiding, counter-attacking side moving with purpose towards Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis can only really have one likely outcome. To add to the defensive problems, Aleksandar Kolarov chose Saturday to drift into one of his most inattentive moods, leaving Joe Hart as exposed as he has ever been.
Leicester had a plan for City's midfield, too; their high pressing, swarming tactics were devastatingly effective. City, however, hardly helped themselves. They started both halves with the slovenly approach of a tree sloth just after a particularly generous dinner of guarumo leaves. Against a side that's made a name for itself on energetic and precise play, City left the blocks at a snail's pace. They reproduced the exact same mistake at the beginning of the second half. Having been widely lauded in midweek for his dignified reaction to the Pep Guardiola announcement, this amounted to something akin to a dereliction of duty on Pellegrini's part.
It was telling that while the manager assured us that Leicester are now favourites for the title, Ranieri told the press that his players were "enjoying it." The Chilean's words smack almost of resignation while the Leicester boss and his players are clearly having a ball at everyone else's expense. It is sometimes a little difficult to imagine how such a phlegmatic approach can motivate players sufficiently for them to go that extra yard. There was a real excuse for anger yet none was forthcoming.
While the never-ending money comparisons between the two teams will surely soon be exhausted, it is relevant to look at what has been spent by the clubs at the top and the relative value each coach has given his employers. Either by luck or by judgement, Ranieri has a bunch of relative unknowns flying towards the title; the pressure on Pellegrini is growing by comparison as the games go by.
With massive amounts of money spent on the likes of Raheem Sterling (£49 million), Kevin de Bruyne (£55 million) and Nicolas Otamendi (£32 million) before the season started, it was illuminating to see how these three players repaid the coach at the weekend. De Bruyne, of course, is currently injured, but Sterling spent the afternoon repeating the trick of running headlong into the match's most overcrowded areas. Otamendi had a nightmare chasing the shadows of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, with his ageing defensive partner Martin Demichelis in distant tow.
While Leicester's bargain basement signings -- including the irrepressable N'Golo Kante running rings around Yaya Toure in the middle of the park -- looked fresh and inventive, City's expensive recruits looked bewildered, outpaced and out-thought. By the three-quarter mark, they had clearly been outfought, too. The motivational slogan "hHard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard" has never rung so true.
The Leicester defeat came as no great surprise, however, unless your name happens to be Manuel. City have already been dismantled piece by piece at Stoke and Tottenham this season and were taught a complete football lesson by Liverpool at the Etihad. Fast, positive, high energy approaches have reaped rich dividends time after time. Add to that the fact that Pellegrini's men have yet to record a win against Leicester, Spurs, Arsenal, Manchester United or West Ham and you have a disturbing pattern.
Add to that little lot the small matter of yet another injury scare, this time to David Silva, and City are beginning to face an ever-steeper incline towards their season's goals..
It is perhaps time at long last for Pellegrini to his gentle platitudes and dignified silences to one side and make some proper noise. Players respond to all sorts of stimuli and the one that does not seem to have been tried yet is anger. The plain fact is that nothing less than a victory over Spurs will now suffice. Time is running out, both for the manager and the team, if they are to save the season from an embarrassing conclusion.
City cling on to the dream of winning four trophies, but the reality of the situation -- without real preparation, proper organisation and spirited application -- might well deliver something far less appetising.
An expectant public is watching and waiting.