Aside from the result against Sunderland, it was the performance which was most telling for Manchester City. It was a performance which, for whatever reason, has been seen far too often over recent seasons. Last year, the players’ dislike for their manager Roberto Mancini was sighted as being the reason for certain uninspiring, almost lackadaisical, performances. This time, current manager Manuel Pellegrini has put it down to mental fatigue after the emotionally draining game against Liverpool last Sunday.
Whatever the reason, it has to be fixed. To win Premier League championships, these are the hurdles you must overcome. Excuses or reasons, however true they may or may not be, will win you nothing. It is true that after a few years the players were not overly fond of playing for the previous manager Mancini. It is also true that the Liverpool showdown was mentally draining, and while City were playing Sunderland, Liverpool were at home with their feet up. But what will it be next year? The fixture list was tough? We had injuries?
When you build your squad at the beginning of the season, you equip it for everything you will need for the upcoming campaign — especially when you have City’s money, there can be no excuses. Over the last few seasons, though, there have been so many games where it almost feels as if City are playing within themselves. It’s almost as if they could do more, but they don’t feel they need to for this particular game — even the year they famously won the Premier league in the closing stages, they had games like this. It’s just too laid back at times, and it not only hands the opposition the initiative on many occasions, it also allows them to grow into what should be a very difficult game.
Now when you do that and you win — and City have gotten away with plenty of those type of games — then people will wonder why it was so close, but there will certainly be no complaints. But when you drop points doing it people are going to ask questions. It was not a game where City controlled the action, had many missed chances and should have won. No, they deserved to lose; they salvaged a draw from a Vito Mannone mistake. Again, it’s nothing new, though. For years, getting by in first gear in many games has been the go-to performance and many times it has been the downfall of dropping crucial points.
Who City buy in the transfer market this summer will go a long way to seeing just how City will go about retooling for next year. The ability of the players cannot be in question, but perhaps the depth of the squad can and perhaps even the mentality to some extent; they just seem too laid back at times. How else do you explain the way they played in the Carling Cup final? Even though they won in the end, that game typifies the club’s exact problem.
Getting more leadership into the team may be another area to consider, and clearly the defense needs to be more stable than it has been this season; if it hasn’t been one defender making an error, it’s been another. Whatever the adjustments City make this summer, there is obviously work to be done and their issues have been in evidence for much longer than just this season. Those issues need to be rectified, and if they are not, then expect City to revert to type again next season just as they have this season and in previous ones too.