‘The future may look bright, but the present is decidedly gloomy’
13:19 06 February 2016
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Since the heady days of summer 2013 when City spent big on Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer, transfer windows have largely been frustrating affairs for the fans.
However, only the most curmudgeonly could complain about this one. Upgrades have been made in defence, the most pressing area of concern, and the one where failure to strengthen in the summer has been felt most keenly, but in addition to that the striking options have been both improved and diversified.
While Patrick Bamford’s arrival hasn’t been welcomed as universally as that of Steven Naismith, his pace, movement and finishing ability will give City another option in attack, and he is an intelligent enough footballer to operate in a deeper role if required.
Much of the criticism of his signing seems to revolve around his time-wasting antics during Middlesbrough’s win at Carrow Road and his under-par performance at Wembley, but ignores how he ripped holes in City’s defence in the earlier game at the Riverside and in the opening 20 minutes at Norwich before he picked up the injury that he was still carrying in the final.
While City’s Premier League status remains precarious, it is gratifying to see that the club’s long-term planning is gathering pace, with the continuing development of the Academy, the refurbishment of Colney and the continued acquisition of exciting young talents like Conor McGrandles, Louis Thompson and now Ben Godfrey, Ebou Adams and the remarkable coup to snatch James Maddison ahead of the likes of Spurs and Liverpool to supplement the home-grown young players currently learning their trade on loan in other leagues.
However, while the future looks bright, the present is becoming increasingly worrying. While defeat to a side as good as Spurs is no disgrace in itself, the manner of it was hugely dispiriting.
Having set up with a narrow formation and two holding midfielders the last thing City wanted to do was to concede an early goal, yet the same sort of hesitant, spatially unaware defending that littered the Liverpool game saw the visitors ahead within 90 seconds and after that the lack of creativity in City’s line-up made it hard to get anything going, even before Kevin Friend’s ludicrous penalty decision effectively killed the game.
Even the Spurs players seemed amazed by the award which seemed to embody the celebrity referee’s mantra: “I can see things that are hidden from the eyes of mere mortals”. Would he have given it at the other end? I think we all know the answer to that.
What concerns me is that, while everyone expected Spurs’ superior quality on the ball on Tuesday, it was only after half-time that City started to get into their faces, resulting in their best spell of the game. The situation is crying out for a Grant Holt-type figure to rally the troops and ruffle some opposition feathers.
Simply trying to compete with Spurs in a passing competition was doomed to failure, not least because of City’s inability to keep the ball, with BBC Sport statistics showing that the two home full-backs alone surrendered possession 54 times between them on Tuesday night. You just can’t afford that sort of profligacy at this level.
What’s more, with Sebastien Bassong apparently reverting to the 2013/14 version, there must be a strong case for the return of Ryan Bennett.
Of course, the two home defeats make today’s game huge. While Villa still seem unable to find a cutting edge (although they will be licking their lips at facing City’s defence) they have tightened defensively under Remi Garde and will be hard to unlock at Villa Park.
They will battle, and perhaps it’s time City stopped acting like pedigrees and introduced a bit more mongrel into their own approach.