Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Year Zero: Why Manchester City need a New Blue Revolution

It was one of the strangest sights seen on a Premier League football field; a player of Yaya Youre's ability, one who, at his best, can lay claim to being the best all-round midfielder on the planet, pumelled into mediocrity by Manchester United's ungainly Belgian, Marouanne Fellaini.

And, yet, it could not be denied, and it was a microcosm of the trajectory of the City's two great clubs. One, in Manchester United who, under Luis Van Gaal, appear a team reborn, the other, the nouveau riche under Manuel Pelligrini, in desperate decline.

Of course, this was somewhat attributable to the United players finally grasping the Dutchman's exacting tactics, but that does not account for a side who are champions, and who had a share at the top of the league table at Christmas, buckling so feebly. Indeed, for all the talk of contrasting 'philosophies', so much of City's woes seemed in part due to a squad, many of whose one time leading lights, now seem disinterested.

Former Liverpool centre-half, Jamie Carragher's, explanation for the seeming lack of vigour was a prosaic if not unreasonable. As he postulated on Sky Sports' excellent Monday Night Football alongside Gary Neville, that the squad assembled so expensively- especially its midfield- no longer retains the vigour of youth that can stand up to the energy of the Premier League's elite. It's certainly a tempting theory, and on its surface its hard to argue that the City players appeared weary and only became more so as the game goes on, but, under scrutiny, this appears simplistic.

It is certainly true that United possessed the youngest and most energetic central midfielder in Herrera at 25, and he dominated his opponents with elegant passing and high-intensity pressing. However, he was accompanied in the centre by Michael Carrick who, at 33 was the senior of every player on the pitch bar Martin Demichelis, and one who lacked mobility even in his physical prime. For all the plaudits surrounding his distrubution, it is common knowledge among Premier League managers that Carrick's languid playing style can be targeted, yet Toure, Milner and Fernandinho gave him one of the most unurried afternoons of his career.

No, the fact that the City team's average age is rising alarmingly is not reason enough alone to account for their decline. It is a factor, certainly, but it is one which shares its brunt with the seeming tactical and emotional torpor of the club's manager, as well as the elementary lack of quality in transfers in recent purchases. Since the arrival of Pellegrini, City have acquired the likes of Jesus Navas, DeMichelis, Fernando, Fernandinho and Mangala, all at great expense, and none of whom have given more than a tentative indication that they may be equipped to give the owners the Champions' League glory they demand.

But it must be remembered that, while the core of the team are getting older, they are far from their dotage. Toure is 31, but an outstanding all-round athlete, and one who was among the league's top scorers last season. Whereas, Vincent Kompany, in less than two years, has gone from being among the very best centre-backs on the planet to a near liability, and a man who plays as if the weight of the world were upon his shoulders at a mere 29. The man-management of these individuals- among others- must be brought into question. One of many questions that now look set to seal Pellegrini's fate.

Perhaps the figure who should be most concerned, however, is Txiki Begiristain, the club's director of football, charged with installing a dominant Barcelona-like model of free-flowing, attacking football. It is under his stewardship that not only have many of said flops been acquired, but also a manager installed who increasingly appears outwitted by the best of his colleagues. 

The side are now perilously close to losing out on Champions League football, and seem in need of a drastic overall of both players and staff. With the shapes of Klopp and Ancelotti on the horizon, Pellegrini's days seem numbered, but past mistakes may make the club's owners wary of allowing Begiristain to oversee the new blue revolution.

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