Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Unpredictable City flying under the radar

Based on their unpredictable form since Manuel Pellegrini took charge at the Etihad, only Manchester City could beat the reigning European champions on their own ground and then still only make headlines for failing to win the game 4-2 rather than 3-2.

Allianz Arena, Munich


You just never know quite what to expect from this current Manchester City side, whose progression under Pellegrini this season has been sufficiently inconsistent that few commentators have marked them out as potential Premier League champions let alone Champions League destroyers.

That inconsistency was laid bare again last night in the space of 90 minutes against a Bayern side that was aiming to win its 10th straight Champions League match.

A second string City XI was torn apart multiple times in the opening 20 minutes, and fell behind to goals from Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze before striking back in the most unexpected manner through David Silva, Aleksandar Kolarov and James Milner.

As if to underline City's capriciousness, Milner's man-of-the-display was in stark contrast to his past 18 months of gradual slipping down the pecking order for club and country, with the former Aston Villa midfielder winning the penalty converted by Kolarov and striking the decisive winner.

Etihad Stadium.


Contextualising the performance and the result by a City side missing the likes of captain Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Sergio Agüero and Alvaro Negredo, especially on the back being outclassed by Bayern in Manchester earlier in the group phase, is bordering on impossible.

Throw in the fact that Pellegrini's side have already lost four times on the road against Premier League sides this season - at Cardiff, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Sunderland - and the conundrum is complete.

Of course, City's unpredictability has been glaring in the past two seasons, too.

Under Roberto Mancini two years ago, they needed to close a seemingly impossible gap on rivals Manchester United and rely on a last minute Agüero winner against Sunderland to claim their first Premier League trophy.

The mediocrity of their title defence last season then led to Mancini's sacking.

Pellegrini has maintained that his focus remains on finding a pattern of play that suits his talented squad.

"We felt we needed revenge for what happened in Manchester because we played very bad. Winning here after being two goals behind is very good, I'm very happy," the Chilean said last night.

"It’s important for the team. I am trying to find a style of playing. I know some of the results in the Premier League playing away have not been what we want but it is more important we find a way to play.

"I thought this was the chance for players to demonstrate why they are in the squad so it was important to win without Kompany, Yaya, Agüero and Negredo."

Despite the numerous defensive lapses and the frequent high-profile mistakes of goalkeeper Joe Hart, City remain a potent threat going forward.

Their home form in the league is rampant, and has already included huge wins over Norwich (7-0), Tottenham (6-0), Manchester United (4-1) and Newcastle (4-0) this term.

Given their vast armoury in attack, maybe Pellegrini's so-called blunder at not realising that his enterprising side could top their Champions League group ahead of Bayern was actually a cunning plan to take just enough gloss off the side to keeping fooling the pundits.

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