Well, that was more entertaining than it had to be, and, while we shouldn’t be too hasty in drawing conclusions from a EFL third cup win, even against another Prem side, it’s hard to find much reassurance from a match in which we conceded 17 shots, ten on goal. Ramsdale had quite a lot to do, but I’m not going to gripe much more than that. Brentford are a better side than their current form suggests, but we advanced all the same. Fringe players got some time on the pitch, and we got the result we needed. Let’s not quibble too much over the process; there’s been quite enough of that already. Let’s just get down to the post-match poll and rate the lads, shall we?Continue reading
We go into today’s League Cup with more questions than answers. Is our uneven form a truer form of our levels than our thrilling but ultimately disappointing title-chase of last year, or does it merely reflect the challenge of seeing key players and and of integrating new ones while injuries plague the squad? There are probably more, but I’m a lazy, lazy man, Roger. A trip to face Brentford offers a tricksy mix of options—it’s not as clear a chance to rotate thoroughly as a match against, say, Lincoln City, but we should still be able to rest key starters and give valuable opportunities to others.Continue reading
Okay, so it was “only” the League Cup, a trivial trophy that most big clubs with the same respect and consideration that they reserve for a weeks-old sandwich found at the back of the fridge, but there’s still something to consider in Man City’s surprise loss to Southampton in last night’s quarterfinal. Yes, Southampton were certainly up for it, as they’re in the basement and penciled in for relegation already. However, for as eager as they might have been, they are, well, in the basement and penciled in for relegation already. As if the scoreline wasn’t damning enough, consider this: Man City had more foul throws than shots on target. Has this squad gotten so tired of winning that they can’t be bothered anymore?
They did dominate possession to the tune of 72%, but there was no edge, no hunger, no desire. It was sterile. Guardiola didn’t mince his words:
Today was not even close to what we are. We were not prepared to play in this competition to get to the semi-finals. We were not ready. The better team won. We didn’t play good, we didn’t play well in the beginning. There are many games you can start not good and overcome and we didn’t do it. When you are not prepared to play this game you arrive one inch late and don’t score a goal. When you are prepared you score the goal.
Guardiola does not take this competition lightly. Man City have won it five times in the seven years since he took the reins. Yes, he rested de Bruyne and Haaland, but he threw them on in a desperate attempt to fight back. Despite the vast chasm in class between each side’s starters, City never looked interested, much less able, to overcome their overmatched hosts. That’s obviously not an issue of skill or tactics; it’s an issue of desire.
Man City have glutted themselves on silverware for years, all the more so under Guardiola: four-time winners of the Prem, five-time winners of the League Cup, and just one FA Cup (thanks in no small part to us). That has to breed a certain diffidence or ennui among the players. Perhaps admitting as much, Guardiola took uncharacteristic steps during the summer, selling several key players to direct rivals (with us taking Jesus and Zinchenko and Chelsea settling for Raheem Sterling) and actually turned a net profit on transfer fees for the first time since 2006. Guardiola admitted that “the market was strange for us. Normally we are a team that buys and didn’t sell much. This summer for different reasons, we sell some players.”
Fresh blood should rejuvenate the squad, right? Hungry players should infect the rest of the squad with their hunger and challenge jaded members for time on the pitch. It hasn’t really happened. Despite Haaland erupting for 21 goals so far, City as a whole seem to have lost the aura of invincibility that on its own probably won countless matches before the players even left the locker room.
Now, they are still on a pace to take 87 points, enough to win the Prem in most seasons, and we underestimate them at their peril. Still, Guardiola himself seems to sense that something’s got to give. An obsessive, compulsive manager averse to unpredictability, he’s talked about “‘ridiculous ideas” and doesn’t have a clear lineup in mind for this weekend’s derby at Old Trafford. Those are not the musings of a notorious overthinker who likes to micromanage down to the last detail. In addition to a squad-wide sense of malaise, Guardiola has to suspect that his players, even the new-ish ones, may be tiring of hearing the same voice for so long. It’s something that’s been wondered aloud about other managers like Klopp, whose own squad seems disinterested at best.
Of course, we’ll find out soon enough just how much water this colander-esque theory of mine can hold when we go to the Etihad on 28 January for the FA Cup fourth round. It may not quite be as much of a white whale to Guardiola as the Champions League is, but it is a trophy that’s been almost as hard for him to grasp. Will our young, hungry, but thin squad have enough to defeat City’s deeper, more-experienced, but sated one? Time will tell, I suppose.
A shocking defeat to the likes of Brighton in the League Cup third round has ruthlessly exposed Mikel Arteta as little more than Guardiola’s cone-man who is way out of his league and in way over his head, and it’s only a matter of time before this cruel truth—those two consecutive eighth place finishes and bottling fourth place last season a a truer reflection of his capabiliites (or should I say lack thereof) than winning the FA Cup or somehow getting to the top of the table. It’s only a matter of time before the wheels come off because the fairy-tale season is over. Well, that’s what you might get elsewhere, but you won’t get that here…except as an attempt at mocking the kind of over-reactive clickbait that passes for journalism.
Instead, I’ll offer you this: Arteta made ten changes to the side that defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, motivated possibly by a desire to rest key players, give others important roles and minutes, and maybe even progress to the fourth found of this competition, one that hasn’t really mattered to this club since we almost won it back in 2011. With Tottenham and Chelsea also crashing out, the chances of winning it did increase, but there’s still Man City and Liverpool to consider. In the end, Arteta came close to having his cake and eating it too. After all, Nketiah scored from a great run-and-pass from Nelson, and he came close to drawing us level but struck the post—and we did create opportunities. 57% possession and 23 shots do show a respectable threat level even if the quality of the players on the pitch didn’t rise to the level necessary. Brighton are no mugs. They’re 6th in the Prem after all and look better than they did under Potter.
Instead of revealing much about Arteta’s qualifications, the result reveals something we all know—there’s a large drop-off in quality between our first and second teams, especially in key positions. The Lokonga-Elneny midfield offers nothing going forward and very little in front of defense. It seems clear that none of Nelson, Vieira, Marquinhos, or Nketiah is ready to play in the top flight, at least for a side that wants to challenge for a Prem title (or, apparently, this bit of silveware). If Arteta did flounder, perhaps it was in throwing on Jesus, Xhaka, Martinelli, and Zinchenko late on, depriving them of the rest he ostensibly tried to give him in the first place. One might as well start strong, try to grab an early lead, and then replace creative players with defensive ones. By contrast, consider that Antonio Conte, frequently held up as the kind of world-class manager we should have gotten, started seven regulars against Nottingham Forest—who themselves made nine changes to their lineup—and Spurs limped to a 2-0 loss despite Forest going down to ten men for the last 15-20 minutes of the match. They may have lost Højbjerg to injury along the way.
In the end, then, there are tempests in teapots and mountains made of molehills. This result is one and the same with both. Yes, it’s fine and dandy like sour candy to win every match, but this is one competition we could take or leave. It gave valuable minutes to some players on whom we might have to depend more thoroughly without undermining our larger goals. They almost made the most of it. Let’s hope they learn and grow from the experience so that they’re better-prepared and more-determined for the next time they’re called on. As to the League Cup, let the likes of Man City, Liverpool, and Man U squabble over it while we chase a bigger prize.
As always, don’t be shy. Share your thoughts in the comments-section below the fold.
With the match unavailable anywhere (thanks, ESPN+), I’ll scour social media to post match highlights as fast as I can find them.
- 20′ Nketiah chips nicely from Nelson to make it 1-0.
- 27′ Welbeck scores from the spot after Hein slips, gets up, and trips Welbeck. Hein sees yellow.
- Mikel resisting the urge to sub himself on.
- 58′ Mitoma’s goal to make it 1-2.
- 71′ Lamptey makes it 1-3.
Sigh. It seems that Arteta either doesn’t rate the League Cup or figured a rotated side could still get the result. Oh well. Fewer matches to wear us down in pursuit of a trophy that is not all that impressive. On to the next match, then.