Jack Maclaren on City's start to the 2013/14 campaign
After an eventful opening ten games of the Premier League season, Manchester City currently find themselves in fourth place, six points behind Arsenal at the top of league. Fourth marks a perfectly decent start to the season for a new manager in his first season in the league. However, at this early stage performances rather than results are a far better indicator of where this City season is going.
One thing which has remained consistent since the Mancini Pellegrini switch is that the Etihad remains the hardest ground in the country for away teams to gain anything. Five home wins have come in near impeccable fashion for City, averaging four goals a game. Most impressively the Blues brushed pashed their local rivals United with relative ease and stuck seven past a shell-shocked Norwich.
It is, however, away from the Etihad where City have most struggled. Only one win in five games is simply not good enough for a title aiming side, a fact Pellegrini knows all too well. However City’s away form must be placed in context and not simply seen as black and white results. Unusual and uncharacteristic defensive errors have led to the winning goals in all three away defeats at Cardiff, Villa and Chelsea. Moreover with perhaps the exception of Cardiff, City’s performance has been far better than the result suggests. City were utterly dominant at Villa Park and could easily have been out of sight before the Villa comeback. Similarly, at Stamford Bridge City dictated the play having more shots, corners and possession than Chelsea and overall looked the better side. In both of these games a good City performance was undone by uncharacteristic mistakes.
For me the problem is not as simple as ‘City struggle on the road’: both home and away City have looked excellent in possession and are creating chances at will. The real problem is at CB where the continued injury problems of Vincent Kompany, coupled with the clear lack of any confidence in Lescott has left 20 year old Nastasic partnered with the out of position Garcia. The lack of experience between this pair has shown, and moving forward this partnership will not win City the league. However with the introduction of the vastly experienced Demichelis and the hopeful return of Kompany in future weeks, City’s defensive frailties should ease. Once City shore up at the back, the impressive performances we have seen so far this season will start to turn into impressive results.
City head in tomorrow night’s game against Moscow in the knowledge that a win will all but settle their first ever qualification into the knockout stages of the Champions League. So far City have taken six points from the opening three fixtures and it cannot be underestimated how good the blues two away wins are in Europe this season. Faced with long away trips, dodgy pitches, decent opposition and the prospect of facing both United and Chelsea only a few days later city have done exceptionally well to gain 6 points so far with two dominating performances.
The one blip so far in Europe for City this season was the home defeat to Bayern Munich. On the night Bayern ran out comprehensive winners, however City can walk away from the defeat with their head held high. Potentially only Barcelona would provide a decent match for Bayern currently and City remain European novices and will have learn a lot from the game. The praise all City fans gave Bayern after the match show the realistic ambitions of the Citizens and I think everyone looks forward to the return leg in December. Overall City have put themselves in a prime position to reach the knock-out rounds for the first time and their name will be one all teams wish to avoid in the next qualifying round. Positive times!
Room for improvement
Other than the defensive instability previously discussed, City have played well this season. One area I think all city fans wish to see a resolution to as quickly as possible is the return to form of Joe Hart. As good a keeper as Pantilimon is, I think all City fans wish to see an in form Hart in goal for both club and country. Similarly other popular City players Richards, Rodwell and Guidetti are yet to make an impression this season, and should Pelligrini manage to bring the best out of these three, City’s already incredibly talented squad would take yet another boost.
Don’t let City’s position in the league fool you into thinking that it has been anything other than a good start to the season to the campaign for the blues. Pellegrini has settled in incredibly well to the premier league and city have shown glimpses of the awesome potential there is in this team. The defensive stability will come with a regular defensive pairing and on the back of this the away wins will come and City will bridge the gap to the top of the league. Overall, sit back and enjoy the rest of the season, because if so far is anything to go off it should be both a successful and exciting one for the Blues.