Caution required amid pundits’ predictions of City glory

Gotta love media pundits.

After hating on City all summer long on account of their spending and making a completely ridiculous brouhaha over Kyle Walker‘s transfer fee, NOW that it’s season-preview time, almost every man-Jack or Jill of them is right behind us.

One example is ESPN FC‘s Steve Nicol. The ex-Liverbird growler was ruthlessly scathing about the talents of Danilo not so long ago, but just several days later he’s jumped on the City-for-the-title bandwagon together with most of the rest.

Over at The Independent, 8 out of 9 -owners who expressed a preference said their cats preferred it  (see here) sports writers have hailed City as certain champions including Miguel Delaney, Ed Malyon & Jack Pitt-Brook.

Out of 10 writers at The Mirror, 7 of the scribes voted likewise, including none other than the Arsenal man John Cross himself.

Robbie Savage refused to go with the Mirror crowd, though.

But no surprise there.

Let me quote legendary City writer Steve Mingle on Savage‘s brand of myopic lunacy in January 2012 when Sunderland beat us with a late goal by South Korean player Ji Dong Won despite dominating the game:

“When professional in-love-with-himself attention-seeking witless pillock Robbie Savage later claims that Sunderland deserved to win, it confirms everything you need to know about him”.  

From Balti Pies to the Biggest Prize: The Transformation of Manchester City (July 2013: The History Press)

The Guardian concur in their annual list (despite quite an underwhelming write-up by Jamie Jackson) and in a mega survey by The BBC in which they quizzed 40 pundits, presenters, journalists and commentators, 25 of them went for City. (United got a very surprising 13 votes, but after all, it was a BBC poll!)

If you were feeling cynical, you might be tempted to think that the reason for this overwhelming vote-of-confidence in Year 2 of the “Pep-olution” is actually more to do with a desire to see Guardiola fail again, rather than a genuine belief in our chances, but let that go…

Is everyone right to be jumping on-board our vessel in such numbers?

Well obviously as City fans, we think so.

However is there not a case for caution?

  • It’s true that Tottenham have to deal with no new signings, the challenge of performing at Wembley Stadium and the fall-out over THAT Danny Rose interview.
  •  Antonio Conte is doing a very poor job of hiding his dissatisfaction over squad-depth with his autocratic Russian overlords at Chelsea.
  • Liverpool have seemingly lost out on Keita & Van Dijk and are currently fending off the attentions of Barcelona for Coutinho.
  •  Stretford United look ALL brawn and NO brains and…
  •  Arsenal are, well, Arsenal (with a very twitchy Alexis Sanchez in tow).

Do City fans have the right to believe that we suffer from fewer weaknesses, glitches and rank disharmony than our rivals?

This writer believes that we do.

But we do also need to look at what hampered us last season to see if all the puzzles have been solved:

The Keeper

Problem solved.

Ederson looks a much safer pair of hands than Bravo, as well as a much more impressive physical specimen who commands his penalty area far more proactively than the somewhat diffident and reactive Chilean, despite the latter’s good showing in the Confederations Cup.

The Full Backs

Problem 90% solved.

Walker, Mendy and Danilo are inescapably significant upgrades on the outgoing 30-plus crowd, not only in terms of youth and energy but also power and mind-numbing pace.

Vincent Kompany

Problem solved…for now.

The Captain returned in the final quarter of last season with all his magisterial assurance and unflustered mega-cool unaffected  – and also complemented by a much missed goal-threat from set pieces into the bargain.

Things are looking good so far.

They’d be even better if we had LB and CB cover, but all reports suggest that City are confident this will be supplied before the end of the transfer window.

Still, I think there remain a few ‘known unknowns‘ if I may borrow a term from former US Secretary-of-State Donald Rumsfeld.

Pep’s Stubbornness/Tinkering

Pep Guardiola needs to avoid being too cool for school this time.

Over 38 games, I believe the title race will weed out contestants who fail to see the advantage of occasional rugged pragmatism when Plan A is not working.

Does Pep possess the nastiness and gamesmanship that is so often needed and likely to be in abundance at the home of last season’s treble-winning invincibles?

After all, there’s nothing quite like a violent elbow in the mush from Fellaini to cause artists to wilt before artisans.

We could also do without some of the high-risk experiments that Pep employed last term without the benefit of a full pre-season for these to be properly rehearsed.

For now though, we can invest in him the credit for having the wit to learn from his mistakes and the evidence of his own eyes.

He IS a very unpredictable chap, though.

Profligacy

This is one thing that could do for us.

Having so far failed to import the kind of ice-blooded ruthlessness that Alexis Sanchez would bring, we need to avoid over-elaboration and put the ball in the bloody net with a greater degree of regularity with respect to chances created.

Too often last season, our forwards struck the ball straight at the advancing goalkeeper rather than in one of the two corners in the way that someone like Jimmy Greaves used to do with great aplomb (and monotonous regularity).

Guardiola has said that his coaching methods are aimed at getting the team into the opponent’s final third, but that it is up to them from there… A bit of work needed here, most would agree.

Refereeing Howlers

Surely, but surely one hopes that the referees’ governing body will have taken note of just a few of the scandalous decisions that went against City last season – decisions which denied wrought-iron penalties, failed to punish Wile. E. Coyotelike villains on other teams and at times even sought to blame Aguero and Sterling from engineering their own downfalls in the box.

As if!

Can’t be as bad again this time, can it?

Conclusion

The mass media heraldry of City as Champions-elect is gratifying of course.

However there are a few reasons for us all to be slightly cautious over what will ensue.

If Guardiola has truly learned from some of the painful lessons inflicted last time out and insists on the defensive cover that so many City fans are clamoring for – this together with regular sessions for some in the finishing school for forwards, could spell our return to throne, in this particular Game of Thrones.

 

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