Another game and another three points for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City as they look to keep chase with the leaders of the pack as City moved up to third place in the Premier League joint on points and only separated by goal difference with Tottenham Hotspur. Yet whilst three points on paper will always be three points come the end of the season, a victory was arguably somewhat fortuitous given that it took until deep into injury time for City to snatch all three points at the death thanks to a rebounded effort from Gabriel Jesus’ initial effort on goal. Adding to his earlier and first onside Premier League home goal which he instinctively scissor-kicked past a hapless Lukasz Fabianski to open the scoring at the Etihad, it was the 19 year old Brazilian who again stole the headlines and sent City fans into a frenzy in stoppage time.
Swansea City fans may feel hard done by given that their team bravely fought back in a game which had all the hallmarks of a tough day at the office in the first half as City piled on the pressure from the outset but they can take many positives out of a courageous second half display which you think would stand Paul Clement’s side in good stead for the rest of the season. On the contrary however depending on which way you may look at it, City fans wearing the sky blue of Manchester and not the White of Swansea may feel either somewhat relieved or even satisfied that they got their just rewards after an impressive first-half performance which by all accounts could have been a cricket score by the break. Mind you whichever way you look at it, through rose tinted specs or not, there is progress on the pitch and little by little even with a late goal to secure all three points, Guardiola’s city side are taking shape and unlike the end of the last calendar year, at least now things are on the up for the up the blue half of Manchester.
Keeping his sky blue tinted specs very much on, @ASelbyInfo once again has his say on Manchester City’s latest performance in the battle of the two cities and offers his thoughts through five major talking points to come from what was City’s third win in the space of a week; Manchester City 2-1 Swansea City.
Why it makes sense to be so intense
Pressing may be one thing, urgency another and intensity something else but when combined in football together they can have such significant results on the pitch. To play with complete intensity and urgency perhaps relies on the energy levels of the players that embody such a style of play on the pitch but more and more, reacting to dead balls and pressing the opposition at every given opportunity is becoming both an effective and incredibly common tactical approach in the modern game. And whilst City have always tried to play on the front foot and more so than ever before this season have attempted to win games through pure dominance and control of proceedings, getting it right when you’re out of possession has long been a work in progress since Guardiola’s arrival this season.
Yet during Saturday’s victory over Swansea City, for the first half at least it’s difficult to recall a City performance that has been so intense in both attack and defence. Fighting for every loose ball were more than just the pacey pairing of Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling as it seemed that everybody knew their job and the importance of retaining the ball as quickly as they may have lost it to the opposition. In pressing Swansea goalkeeper Fabianski and the teams defenders in front of him, City repeatedly put Swansea under pressure and forced Paul Clement’s side into conceding corners and throwing’s alongside rushed clearances and rash tackles that they may not have committed without such urgency to the Blues’ play. Of course sustaining that for a full ninety minutes is a tough ask for any player or team in the world but City largely appeared to do it well and without such instinct and desire to go at the opposing team, who knows whether Jesus would have scored either goal which ultimately led to City’s victory.
A fine gentleman but the proof is in the pudding
Oh the joys of commenting on football and especially on Manchester City in the ecstasy and the aftermath of a resounding 4-0 league victory against West Ham United last week. Admittedly fewer than seven days ago, following Claudio Bravo’s absence from the City starting XI for the first time since arriving at the club it was me that suggested that in Willy Cabellero, the club had a fine backup goalkeeper and somebody more than capable of taking up the reins on a more long term basis should Bravo be dropped in favour of his fellow South American teammate. Nonetheless as with all goalkeepers, the proof is very much in the pudding when it comes to how good that they actually are when tested and whether they’re fit to be a domestic club or even national team number one and whilst the Argentine may have only conceded the one goal in what turned out to be a 2-1 victory for Manchester City, you can’t help but think that the signs are there that on a more long-term basis, change is instead needed rather than applying a rather literal ‘Willy-nilly’ approach to appointing the clubs future number one.
In Saturday’s victory however, although tested very little during the first half as City looked to put the game to bed before the midway point, it was only when Caballero began to be called into action by Swansea City in the second half where it perhaps became apparent that things may need assessing once more. After an admittedly good save from a close range Swansea attempt, the more Swansea went forward through Luciano Narsingh, Fernando Llorente and the unavoidable threat of Gylfi Sigurdsson, the more you began to fear that a goal was coming. Although you could say Caballero is an improvement on how Bravo had fared this season, when you think back to the match-winning performances that Joe Hart often put in for the club in games that City would have drew or even lost, or simply just in comparison to other impressive shot-stoppers in the Premier League, if City want to win the title then their goalmouth has to be kept water tight. Nonetheless perhaps harshly but also realistically, Caballero is an adequate backup choice and one capable of featuring in cup competitions or in the event of an injury but when thinking more longer-term, he isn’t the man to take Guardiola’s City forward. Whether that man is Joe Hart however is for another day…
Fernandinho needs to be put right back in central midfield
Squad rotation is part and parcel of modern football most notably when injury or suspension strikes or more commonly in keeping morale and an elite squad of star players happy throughout the course of the season. Therefore players that are capable of performing in a number of different positions across the pitch are in a much greater demand than ever before with versatility, flexibility alongside a genuine willingness to fit in where necessary into a manager’s preferred system all highly sought after traits in an individual, especially if you’re a side with title ambitions and European success.
With this in mind, one individual that Guardiola has spoke highly of throughout the course of the season is Fernandinho and even in the face of adversity after unsavoury scenes on the pitch leading to two red cards this season, Guardiola has often defended his midfield anchorman and clearly rates the Brazilian very highly. However maybe because City fans have been so used to seeing the likes of James Milner, a midfielder with a similar work-rate, attitude and approach to football perform quite so competently when asked to fill in at right or left back some seasons ago, Fernandinho’s performance in a different position to the one he is more suited to however failed to live up to previous expectations. High energy levels and a determination to win every tackle are most certainly important but when filling in at right back as Pep opted for on Saturday with a natural right sided defender in Pablo Zabaleta watching on perplexed from the sidelines, Fernandinho looked far from comfortable and will have been hoping that his audition has if anything taught the City boss that for him to have any kind of effect in the game, he has to back where he belongs in the centre of the park. The usually reliable Brazilian looked ropey in producing crosses from the right wing and keeping the ball in play on numerous ocassions but thankfully for City his inexperience at right back didn’t cause City to drop points. Consequently if anything it may have been a brave effort by both Fernandinho for his willingness to play at right back and for Pep in trusting the Brazilian to do so but instead serves as a further wake up call (if needed) that the right side of defence has to be addressed in the summer.
The magician continues to work his magic
Like a magician that repeatedly pulls rabbits out of a hat (or even out of the many pockets on Guardiola’s impressive coat) City’s very own merlin David Silva continues to produce his magic on the field and when on form can be as influential as anybody in City’s starting XI. After joining the club in the summer of 2012, in terms of the number of assists and chances created that Silva has produced during his seven seasons and counting at the club, the Spaniard has been exceptional. Most notably in his early days at the club during the Roberto Mancini era, the former Valencia attacking midfielder has been one of City’s most consistent performers and without him it’s difficult to think whether City would scored as many of the goals that they have done over the last few seasons.
Even when you think that his influence is beginning to wane ever so slightly, David Silva albeit with a much lesser responsibility nowadays to be City’s most potent threat capable of producing that final killer ball that leads to a goal, remains as effective as any other midfielder at the club. As the Spaniard has grown older and the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan have come in to compete against Silva for a place in attacking midfield, clearly Merlin has had to adapt his own style of play because of his age and for this reason too. During Saturday’s victory however Silva started in his favoured central midfield position with the license to go forward and with the security of Yaya Toure behind him, De Bruyne alongside and the pace of Leroy Sané out on the left where Silva has been asked to perform on so many occasions for the club, Silva looked comfortable; free to express himself through an array of wonderful passes in a similar mound to Andrea Pirlo in the latter days of his career. Silva’s ability to spot the run of a City player or to simply create a chance from nothing is what has made him stand out from day one and even today continues to separate him from the good and the very best in world football. David Silva most certainly falls into the latter and like a fine Spanish rioja, let’s hope he continues to be get better for City’s sake.
Better late than never – how we LOVE a late goal
There is very little that is less emotional than a late goal in football. When it’s your team that goes and concedes late on and consequently sacrifices either a much needed win or even a valuable point, inevitably football fans are as incensed as ever often given the nature of how such a late goal was conceded and the missed opportunity to get something more out of a game than just walking away with a poultry point or absolutely nothing to show for what may have a good performance come the end of ninety minutes. Conversely when your team have shown very little throughout the game but suddenly find their feet with only a matter of minutes left on the clock and then score by any means possible, sometimes it can be just how I just and undeserved that a late goal might be which makes that elusive victory or that point which you never thought you’d earn all the more sweeter. In keeping it typical City, let’s say Michael Owen or Paul Scholes’ late derby day winners in recent years compared to perhaps the most important and most memorable late goal not only in the clubs but even the league’s history as Sergio Aguero won Manchester City the title with 40 seconds remaining of ‘Fergie time’.
Although a game of much lesser importance than any local Derby or season finale that offers the chance of a title victory simply by beating the opposition, Gabriel Jesus’ late winner against Swansea City did feel as good any other. Whether that is because it was scored by none other than new boy Jesus whose introduction to the fold seems to have reenergised the club or just because it’s been a while since a late goal at the Etihad has handed City all three points in a game that looked finished as the fourth official displayed the games’ additional minutes, City’s late winner was certainly well celebrated by fans in the stadium as in terms of its importance it has helped keep City in the Champions League mix, avoiding failing further behind league leaders Chelsea and the chasing pack that follow. And whilst late goals may not be good for the heart, they certainly do make for great entertainment when they go your way and thankfully for Pep Guardiola, although I’m sure he’d much rather win games oh right without the fortune of a late goal gifting his side all three points, at least it went his and City’s way last Saturday.