The month of April was a mixed month for Manchester City. At one point it seemed as if City’s title hopes were over but a remarkable day of football at the end of the month saw City reinstalled as favourites to win the league. In Typical City tradition Bob Toole and Ciaran Murray take a look back at the main talking points of the month. We discuss Liverpool, Dzeko and whether City can actually win the league again…
CIARAN: Hello there, Bob. This is the fifth month we’ve looked at together since taking this feature on at the end of December. I think April has got to be the most bonkers month. We’ve briefly dipped our toes into the murky waters of title winning talk in our reviews; never willing to fully immerse ourselves and start to believe it could actually happen. However, with another “Mourinho Masterclass” at Anfield and City’s fairly comprehensive victory at Palace, we’ve plonked a rock in the middle of the title race, blowing it right open.
I think we have to start here. You wrote a brilliant article based around your feelings before the weekend just past. How are you feeling now? Are we good enough and can we do it?
BOB: Well, when I wrote that piece I felt at ease with the idea that City weren’t going to win the league. Of course, I hoped we could but realistically it looked far too unlikely to occur this season given Liverpool’s excellent form and our distinctly average form. However, since the excitement of Sunday and I’ve settled down a bit I am nervous wreck and I expect to feel that way until the end of the season (unless we lose at Everton and all our hopes and dreams evaporate once again).
We are definitely good enough to do it and we can do it. The situation is very similar to two years ago so we have every reason to believe we can do it. Goodison stands out as the toughest fixture and rightly so but this isn’t Moyes’ Everton and I think they’ll be easier to beat under Martinez. They’re a bit up and down at the moment so I think they are there for the taking, so to speak. That said if we ever needed a reality check our record there speaks for itself:
We can’t be certain of anything from now until the end of the season but one thing I am sure of is that every moment will be watched with baited breath. It’s going to be horrible!
Looking back through the month, the Liverpool game was probably the most significant result for a number of reasons. In a way, I didn’t think it was the end of the world as the pressure was on them all of a sudden whereas before it was always in our hands if we won our games in hand. Talk us through your thoughts for that game. What did you make of the Liverpool love in that has enveloped the press before and after the game?
CIARAN: It was horrendous, that game. That game was this season’s version of Nasri ducking out of the way of Van Persie’s free kick in last season’s derby. Going 2-0 down then fighting and fighting to get it back to 2-2 then, with momentum back in our favour, throwing it away through a costly mistake. I went upstairs after that game, lay on my bed and just sulked. I mean, fair play to Liverpool and all. They gave us a real lesson in that first half and I thought it could have been a rout. However, pretty much driven by David Silva, we’d got back into it so well. I felt a 2-2 draw would have been a fair reflection.
In your section above you provided a quote that for me, summed up the difference between City fans and Liverpool fans. You said, “Every moment will be watched with baited breath. It’s going to be horrible!” That is a typical City fan’s current feeling: Typical City. Liverpool, on the other hand have spent the last, I dunno, 6 weeks, posing the question, “Are you gonna believe us?” Before declaring, “We’re gonna win the league!” I mean, fair play to Liverpool and all. But to me, as a pessimistic, curmudgeonly Blue, with about 8 different superstitions leading to all sorts of worries over jinxes, that just seems so insane! I’ve had to hide a guy on Facebook who was at my Uni as every post-game status for the last 11 weeks said, “So I ask you again, are you gonna believe us?”
The old ambushing the team bus on the way in as well? I mean fair play to Liverpool and all. It’s kind of impressive to see *everybody* singing off the same hymn sheet as a solid unit backing their team. But it doesn’t make it any less bizarre as an outsider looking in. The amount of headshakes I’ve done lately over this kind of stuff… And if they don’t win the league it’s going to make them look silly, and most City fans, to my knowledge, care an awful lot about that.
The media love in makes my skin itch. Have you seen that vine knocking about of Martin Tyler’s commentary in the Liverpool, City game? I noticed it on the day but it’s basically, “STERLINGGGGGGG!!” then, “SKRTELLLLLLL!!!” then, “silva.” then, “oh it’s gone in” when City equalise. I’m becoming increasingly aware that every group of fans has a certain paranoia over the media and how their team is treated. However, you couldn’t not see that media outlets were painting Liverpool’s title challenge as a fairytale story and that anyone who wasn’t howling for them to win was nothing but a big bad wolf. I mean, fair play to Liverpool and all. But the Daily Mail published an article entitled “10 reasons why everyone wants Liverpool to win the title”. Everyone. Everyone wants Liverpool to win the title, apparently. All of us, supposedly. Every individual person out there. Wants Liverpool. To win the title.
It’s mental all the same, though, because if you went by former Liverpool players who are television pundits, then you would believe that the whole entire population of our country is made up of Liverpool well-wishers and former members of their playing staff. Hansen, Lawrenson, Souness, Carragher, Owen, Redknapp. Danny Murphy’s popped up and Paul Ince was on Match of the Day lately sat beside Robbie Fowler (I then remembered that Fowler used to play for City but cut that memory out again soon after. (See also: Steve McManaman and Didi Hamann) (And if anyone sees ex Liverpool pundits and raises me Niall Quinn or Danny Mills, we’ll most definitely fall out)).
Liverpool’s “destiny” to win the league this season has been backed by an awful lot of people on the tellybox which perhaps has led to the love in. There’s a hitlist of people’s faces I can’t wait to see if City end up doing it. Starting with you, Alan David Hansen.
April saw wins over Southampton, West Brom and Crystal Palace. The Southampton game was probably my favourite of the month. I’d been bricking it in the build up. Pochettino went down a little in my estimations, though with his “dumb refereeing decisions” speech in the aftermath. How did you feel after that match and do you believe City have benefitted from the refs this season?
BOB: The Southampton game was probably my favourite out of the lot as well but it wasn’t a particularly convincing performance. I thought City were thoroughly outplayed in the first half and it was strange how City went in at half time 3-1 up. That said, for all of Southampton’s possession I don’t think they really threatened. City were just clinical with the opportunities that came their way. I can understand Pochettino being frustrated as Silva was miles offside for City’s crucial second goal but to say the game cannot be analysed after that point is ridiculous. Maybe he just said it because after that point City were by far the better team so maybe he wanted to divert the media’s attention to Southampton’s decent first half performance. Cynical? Absolutely.
The whole argument about whether City have benefited from referees this season is soooo tedious. The whole “City got lucky” thing is one of the most boring topics in football and is only trumped by “Emptihad” jibes and FFP talk. Sure, City may have had some decisions go for them but they’ve also had a fair few go against them so it’s much of a muchness really. The problem is that the people that tend to bring it up as a topic of conversation are usually so consumed with bias that their argument is flawed from the start as they are too blinkered to acknowledge any counter argument (that is not an attack on you for bringing it up, by the way). Some people say these things even themselves out over the course of a season but I bet there is some statistician somewhere who could prove otherwise. In all honesty, if that is something that preoccupies a football fans mind I think they are missing the point of the sport.
For better or for worse Edin Dzeko has been at the forefront of City’s title challenge in the last month. What do you make of enigmatic Bosnian’s form in April? Can City really rely on him to win us silverware?
CIARAN: I feel I owe Edin Džeko a little bit of an apology. I haven’t always had the kindest of words to say about him. And friends who support other teams can’t understand it as they see a 20+ goals a season type striker and wonder how someone who pops up with goals time and time again not be held in such high regard. It’s quite difficult to explain but I think, to find love at City, you have to be seen to be a grafter. Zabaleta, Milner, Kompany type players who constantly muck in and empty themselves, without fail, in every single game. If you’re not that way inclined then silky skills and beautiful football is your best bet.
Džeko, on his off days, would seem to be disappear entirely or stand idle, waiting for something to happen. When that came along the ball would hit off his shin, he’d misplace a pass or completely sky a shot. He just never felt blessed with that first touch or finesse. I’m almost laughing out loud as I type this.
But I’m being harsh on him. He’s a sulky player and needs praise and to feel the crowd are on his side. When he’s fired up, he’s an exceptional player and he’s got some vital goals this season and in the past. I see his equaliser on 13th May 2012 over and over again in my most beautiful dreams. His brace in the derby last month was huge, as was his goal against Palace. A proper old fashioned “Pop it on me head there and I’ll do the rest” striker’s goal. For every kick-his-own-foot-from-two-yards-open-goal-miss there’s a game changing, top quality, vitally important goal in his locker, too.
This season he’s had to live with the constant comparison between him and Negredo. I’ve seen arguments on Twitter where people would rush to defend Negredo over Džeko, or times when the Spaniard, at the start of his drought, was immune to criticism whilst Edin took all the flak. Again, Negredo; a grafter, a work horse, a warrior (or a Beast even) in the fans’ eyes so maybe got off easy. Please find your form again, Alvaro. I miss you.
Džeko may go this summer. I think it would be for the best, too. It felt last season that he was on his way until Pellegrini’s appointment gave him a fresh start. Right now I feel we’ve reached a fork in the road and he may choose to go his own way. I’d miss him in some ways (especially when the 30 yard screamer GIFs start circulating on Twitter from Serie A!) but I feel this may be his swansong. What better parting gift, though, than to continue his great current form and help City win the league? It makes me feel icky writing that, you know. I feel sick to my stomach with nerves; I don’t know how a whole stadium could so confidently sing that they were going to win the league…
There are about 10 days (TEN!) left of the Premier League season. Dear god! I know we’ll be talking again soon for a bumper Typical City end of season review. So I’ll ask you for now about your goal of the month for April. There was a real variety, I felt, with players in every position popping up and contributing. Talk us through your particular highlight.
BOB: It’s a tough one to be honest but I’d have to go with Silva’s against Liverpool. If you can forget the hideous context of the game it really was a nicely worked team goal. The one-two between Milner and Fernandinho was wonderful and the slightly chipped finish from Silva was as beautiful as it was intentional. It was very reminiscent of a couple of the goals in the 1-6. It’s just a shame that the game cannot be remembered in a similar way. I would say Fernandinho’s goal against Sunderland was a close contender as well. The dummy from Negredo which freed Ferni in acres of space was a bit of throw back to that dummy at West Ham earlier in the season. Lovely stuff.
It’s been a strange month which has ended on a high and the title is tantalisingly close. However, it is also important to remember those that have been less fortunate in April…