For a Manchester City side devoid of the sort of title-winning form that fans of the club have come to expect in recent years, a clean sheet and three goals scored away in London is about as good as it gets right now. High-profile defeats against opposition from the capital have not got unnoticed this season and although victories against Arsenal and West Ham as well as City’s recent 2-2 draw with title chasing Tottenham Hotspur show signs of recovery, there has been a need for greater consistency against London clubs towards the latter end of the 2016 calendar year.
A 3-0 FA Cup victory away at Crystal Palace therefore came at just the right time as Pep continues to assess his squad ahead of a busy February where City will face Huddersfield Town in the fifth round of the same competition, AS Monaco in the next stage of the UEFA Champions League alongside three league games including fixtures against West Ham United, Bournemouth and Swansea City. Remaining in the cup and beating Premier League opposition in both rounds meanwhile is clearly an achievement worth shouting about but the talking points don’t stop there for the club with many positives and the odd question mark once again providing City fans with further food for thought.
With both eyes on the BBC’s FA Cup highlights despite persevering with a hazy but widely appreciated Periscope stream courtesy of one the travelling City faithful, @ASelbyInfo offers his latest sky blue thinking and five talking points following Manchester City’s comfortable 3-0 FA Cup victory over Crystal Palace.
The start of a blossoming front three for the future?
Age isn’t ‘just a number’ when it comes to top flight football with finding the perfect balance between youth recruitment and fielding older, experienced players proving increasingly difficult. As a feature of the sport that is repeatedly under the spotlight, City’s ageing squad has had its critics aplenty this season with many pointing to the number of existing players from City’s first Premier League success 2011/12 that continue to feature as regularly five seasons later. Therefore given what has looked much more of a calculated approach to youth recruitment in the past three summer transfer windows, it was somewhat refreshing to see a front three of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus to not only start against Crystal Palace but to seemingly gel from the word go. The average XI of City’s front three against The Eagles last Saturday was 20.67 years old, six years younger than that of the combined age of Sergio Aguero, Nolito and Raheem Sterling who featured in City’s November league tie against Palace, with an average age of 26.3 years of age. For City’s promising trio to play so well together and to at last find their feet alongside each other most certainly bodes well for the future and we could yet have been looking at the club’s future during Saturday’s convincing 3-0 victory.
City have a fine gentleman when called upon
After Pep Guardiola announced publicly in his pre-match press conference that Willy Caballero would feature for City against Palace, there’s no denying that some sections of the clubs support base will have breathed a sigh of relief. Yet just like Bravo, Caballero has too faced his critics during his early days as a Manchester City only with standout individual performances as in the 2016 League Cup final saving him from the wrath of both pundits and City fans alike. His performance against Crystal Palace also made for good reading – denying Sam Allardyce’s side early on with a good save as both sides looked for the decisive opening goal before going on to keep a clean sheet and when called upon, stopping City from conceding any goals that might have jeopardised a one or two goal advantage. Although nobody quite knows how the second half of the season may pan out for City’s number one, at least Caballero is an assured backup in reserve; some fans arguing that even he may be the clubs best first team option in the short term option until Bravo recaptures the confidence and form which originally earned him a move to the Premier League.
Manchester City’s defence look to be in good Kompany again
For all the flair and attacking threat that City can provide going forward, the foundations of any title contending side is a solid defence. With an emphasis on pressing high up the pitch and attempting to win games by dominating in terms of possession, the need for a solid back four remains vital even under the assumption that if the opposition scores three, we’ll score four. Clearly for a City side gradually taking shape under Pep Guardiola it’s early days for his players and as a manager himself to feel completely comfortable and City’s defensive frailties are largely down to teething problems under a new manager. Vincent Kompany’s long awaited return however appears to have brought a much needed boost to a fragile back four as the Belgian international played a full 90 minutes of first team football for the first time since City’s 2-1 League cup victory over Swansea City on September 21st 2016. As important as keeping a clean sheet in the process, keeping club captain Kompany fit could be almost like a new signing. Nicolas Otamendi looks more settled alongside Kompany, Kolarov more comfortable alongside a player he’s known since joining City in 2010 and John Stones has the perfect teacher if Kompany can maintain his fitness and avoid further injury.
Yaya Touré de Force
Football fans can be a difficult bunch to please. Do you hold grudges against a player who publicly appeared to do everything within his and his agents power to force a move away from the Etihad, or do you simply forgive and forget for the love of your football club going forward and use a player whose quality far outweighs any outbursts of discontent at the club? It’s a tough one. However the only way Yaya Touré can continue to defy his critics both in the media and among City supporters is by producing the goods on the pitch. Whether City have the same Yaya Touré of old is difficult to tell due to interrupted playing time combined with the much older age of the Ivory Coast midfielder compared to previous seasons but against Crystal Palace at least, Touré always seems to be in his prime. Announcing his return to the fold back in November with two goals against Crystal Palace that did more than any embarrassing press conference to the club’s fans asking for their acceptance over his reintroduction to the side ever could have done, Touré’s sublime free-kick not only marked his transformation from wantaway midfielder to Man City mainstay bit further confirmed (if needed) that class is permanent. Birthday cake saga or not, Touré’s moment of individual magic again illustrated why he should be remembered more so as a club legend rather than in a much more negative light.
Give it away, give it away, give it away – No!
Perhaps the most striking to come out of City’s resounding FA Cup wins against what on paper at least seem like difficult Premier League opposition is just how up for it that City seem to be. You need only look at Liverpool who with one eye set firmly on the league title to see just how easy it can be to recently fall short in both the league and FA cup competitions. The importance of the FA Cup must be not be underestimated either and it’s great to see that Guardiola appears to be taking it that bit more seriously than Manuel Pellegrini did in fielding what was essentially an EDS starting XI against reigning title winners Chelsea. Under Roberto Mancini it was the FA Cup victory in 2011 which gave the club a winning mentality and a belief that they could go onto challenge for the league title (and did successfully a year later) and to a similar degree the FA Cup as well as its symbolic importance could provide a much needed psychological boost going forward for the clubs players and fans. And whether or not the club should cast aside the novelty, the romance and the magic of the FA Cup in favour of greater dominance on the world stage in the Champions League, as the Lincoln City and Sutton United’s giant killings most recently proved that there is still a lot of love for the FA Cup and thankfully Pep’s in on it too. For what had been a faltering Premier League campaign for Guardiola thus far, a top four finish, progress in Europe and an FA Cup could be a perfect end to Pep’s first season at the club.