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Monday, 02 April 2012

Manchester City: Have they brought empty stomachs to this title fight?


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Sqf Heaney

And you won’t win titles defending like that…’ – Jonathan Pearce.

While I’m not always in agreement with BBC commentator Jonathan Pearce, his summation of Manchester City’s draw with a ready, roused and awakened Sunderland side was spot-on. Manchester City certainly won’t win titles by defending as they did on Saturday. They won’t even come close.

If you had watched the fixture between Manchester City and Sunderland on Saturday as an extra-terrestrial (aka, Dean Whitehead) that possessed not a shred of knowledge about football, who would you have thought the grittier team were? Who would you have thought the better team were? In fact, who would you have thought the squad that were aiming to reach the domestic summit – as part of their long-term ‘project’ – were? Not Manchester City. Not the team whose colours matched their attitudes – baby blue was the shade and babyish were some of the goings-on as Mancini’s team lost two valuable points.

Manchester City, in many ways, were pale in comparison to Sunderland. While the Black Cats were strong and defiant City bounded around the pitch like a dog angered that his favourite ball had been thrown too far down the road for his liking. That said, without wanting to underrate Sunderland’s performance, the goals City conceded were helped by some ludicrously erratic defending. Backing off, space afforded, nonchalant and insipid marking and of course the cherry on top, actually allowing Nicklas Bendtner to snatch a headed goal (actually to be fair to Bendtner, he has been quite good lately).

Of course, though it helps, playing particularly well and being technically astute in both attack and defence is not something a title winner necessarily needs to have at this stage of the season. Have Ferguson’s Manchester United teams played the best, most fluid and eye-catching football in the times they have won the crown? At the same time, has their defence been the most polished or talented? Sometimes. But sometimes not. And that ‘sometimes’ is made up and papered over by something that must be ‘always’, if you catch my drift. A piercing hunger; a determined refusal; a desire to win that is quite challenging to put into words. Ferguson has it and has instilled it in a number of teams throughout his 25 year-reign. It’s something that cannot be bought.

City simply looked like a team without the courage of their conviction – a team already half-sunk before the bombs had been detonated. A team, I might add, that played such pretty and alluring football in the first half of the season that (albeit hyperbolically) was being compared to some of the play Barcelona were gracing the pitch with (as I said, complete over-exaggeration). We should all know it by now; domestically at least, the hard part is not compiling a team capable of playing a brand of football that can knock others to the ground. The hard part is making sure stomachs are full of determination, gumption, grit or whatever you want to call it. You need brute force at this stage. Currently, City’s guts are a bit queasy.

The question is begging to be asked: have they brought empty guts to this title fight? Are Manchester United looking at City like a hungry spider eyes up a fly? If so, Monday the 30th April – the date of the next Manchester derby – might not be as important as we thought it would be. If City continue in this vain, it might all be over by then. Cracks are appearing. Dodgy defences, less-than-impressive form and even that heart-sinking emblem of a lopsided ship – tension between the ranks. Plenty will say Kolarov and Balotell’s babyish spat epitomised the way City have ascended in the league; through attracting players with large, crisp stacks of cash.

While I’m not arrogant enough to claim to know why certain players want to join certain clubs – and while I certainly won’t tediously bitch about the way football is one big business – what the spat does show is the exact opposite of the unified togetherness any team needs to triumph come May. Handbags over a free kick? Come on City. I don’t buy into the Ferguson mind games phenomenon … but that’s schoolboy stuff. That’s-walking-onto-the stage-to-collect-an–important-award-with-your-flies-down stuff. And United will eat you up with a smile on their greedy little faces if you show that kind of petulance with eight games until the title is decided. Then there was the strange, resigned look on Mancini’s face as Bendtner scored his goal, which resembled the City dogma when they faced Everton earlier in the campaign.

The world pretty much crapped their pants in laughter as Mancini spluttered; “Probably it’s my fault because we didn’t prepare very well for this game. I thought before the game it was going to be easier but it is never easy.”

Thinking a game will be easy against an Everton side directed by the frog-eyed David Moyes is simply lunacy. In hindsight, it was a costly mistake and three valuable points were dropped. But with away games against Arsenal and Newcastle – and a home one against United – City will lose much more than three points if they employ such a complacent view on the league season. Should Mancini be saying Balotelli cannot be trusted? Should Balotelli and Kolarov involve themselves in such petty fights? Should City be in a situation where they need to rely on such a morally duplicitous mercenary like Carlos Tevez? The answer to those three questions are three resounding ‘nos’.

And as United plunge on – as they always do at this stage of the season – City might want to stop struggling; stop the childish disagreements; get their act together. Because at the moment, they are looking like a fly that will soon be gobbled up that distinctly red, experienced, relentless Spider who has devoured so many weaker clubs before the Blues hovered into contention.

Do you agree with Jack? Have City lost their hunger for the battle? Is the title race now simply United's to lose? Whatever your view, we'd love to hear from you.

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