Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Now we must look to the players

Its fair to say its been a week to forget at Eastlands, compounded by the 2-1 defeat to Wolves. The 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, an injury sustained to our talisman Carlos Tevez, followed by the alcoholic excesses of Adam Johnson, Gareth Barry and Joe Hart all captured perfectly on camera for Roberto Mancini to see for himself. Nice work.

Defeat at Molineux…

In all of this, the killer blow was surrendering a 1-0 lead to capitulate against Mick McCarthy’s men. Victory at Wolves and the exploits of messrs Barry and co would have quickly faded. Victory at Wolves, and the absence of Tevez would not have been so clear for all to see.

But defeat, combined with the arguments of Vincent Kompany and Emmanuel Adebayor on the pitch, added to the fact that James Milner and Yaya Toure were so clearly arguing on the during the Arsenal game (to say Nigel De Jong had to split them apart would be to dramatise things, but he certainly had to adjudicate), and the media find themselves enjoying a nice little feast. And all of this without knowing the reality of what is going on inside that dressing room and inside that training camp.

The BBC Manchester phone in after the game was predictable enough. There were comments of doom and gloom: getting rid of Mancini, our tactics are all wrong, we’re too defensive, why don’t we start with Adam Johnson, why did we withdraw Adebayor and replace him with Zabaleta when we were trying to get us the goal that would’ve drawn the game.

Any comments about sacking Mancini are just wide of the mark - we are fourth in the league and still a strong candidate for Champions League football. Any criticism about his team selection, substitutions or tactical approach to the game do not get to the heart of why we lost. I went to last season’s visit to Molineux, where our discipline and clinical finishing ground Wolves into the ground. We were on the wrong end of things here because we did not demonstrate these qualities, both of which are fundamental to winning a game of football. So what do fans expect?

At the back and in the centre of midfield we lacked the assured air that we had both last season at Molineux and indeed earlier in this campaign. Despite a lack of concentration from Micah Richards, and a lack of cover from James Milner we were unlucky for the Wolves equaliser, a deflected cross landing in the path on the onrushing Nenad Milijas, just high enough for him direct the ball beyond Hart into the far corner of the goal. The second goal was absolute madness. A speculative cross, a defensive header straight to a Wolves attacker, a parry from Hart going straight to another Wolves attacker who did the honest thing and put us out of our misery. I’m not sure exactly how many bites of the attacking cherry we wanted to lavish on Wolves for their winning goal. We simply weren’t good enough at the back, and we were punished for it.

But more tellingly we lost because of how we performed at the other end of the pitch. Wolves were rocking in the opening 10 minutes as chance after City chance went begging. A surging Adebayor run just failed to find the lurking Mario Balotelli. To add to this the Italian spurned a superb, low driven Milner cross, and narrowly shot just over the bar after a neat one-two with Adebayor. In the second half an excellent run by Yaya found Adam Johnson who cut the ball back only for Adebayor to place into row Z. Our other strikers have simply got to start stepping up to the plate. Tevez cannot do it all on his own. We have more than enough in our locker to get by without him against a defence like the one we faced at Molineux.

…and its repercussions

We can harp on all we want about managers, tactics and substitutions, but it was the players that lost us this game, not Mancini. It is they who must now carry the can and bear the brunt of the pressure.

A good start might be to stop remonstrating with each other on the pitch. In a sense it is a good sign, they care about winning. And I’m not na├»ve enough to think that disagreement doesn’t exist on a football pitch, of course it does, and in every team, but perhaps we need to start controlling our disagreements a bit better. At the moment they are betraying a lack of concentration. There’s a sense that we are complaining about our lot rather than getting on with the job of doing something about improving it.

All eyes now turn to our trip to Poland on Thursday, and perhaps the sterner test of West Brom this coming Sunday. The spotlight will be on us at the Hawthorns and of course the game will be important. But for me nothing has changed and we are still very much in the mix. Chelsea have set the pace, but it is another thing entirely to sustain it. We on the other hand are still up there despite not playing particularly well for the most part.

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