Manchester City: Dull Blues Living Dangerously on Razor's Edge
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To borrow a line from parents of young children the world over, "it is not cute or funny anymore."
Manchester City were 17-0-1 at home when the final game of the 2011-2012 season kicked off. Facing relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad, City were 1-7 favorites, i.e., you had to wager many hundreds on them just to win a hundred back if they won.
When the 90 scheduled minutes were over, City were down 2-1.
A loss—or even a draw—meant hated rivals Manchester United would steal City’s long-awaited title and with it would inflict a loss from which City’s fans could reasonably be expected to never recover from.
And then, two minutes into the elastic time—bang. Three more minutes later, as the game had more than likely winnowed down to its last seconds—bang.
Win. Title. Disaster averted. Panic in the streets of Manchester; a good panic.
Entering this season's title defense, you might have assumed that the Blues had learned their biggest lesson, i.e., not to take anything for granted.
But thus far, City's play has illustrated plainly that the lessons of the QPR miracle have not taken.
Rightfully, no one takes the Community Shield all that seriously, but City trailed that game to Chelsea until Branislav Ivanovic was sent off. The 3-2 final masked plenty of iffy attacking play and indifferent defending.
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All right, but that was an exhibition. Surely the season debut, at the Etihad, against newly promoted Southampton, would provide the club the appropriate canvas upon which to paint a destructive football masterwork.
Except Sergio Agüero did not finish the match, and with 22 minutes left in regulation time, the defending Premier League champions trailed at home to a side that played last year in the Championship.
Again, City's impressive striking capabilities wallpapered over the nasty hole that seems to have developed in Roberto Mancini's supposedly impregnable defensive scheme. Catenaccio, indeed.
City apparently did not get the memorandum that most championship teams get. Among the many bullet points is the most important one: expect that every team you face will treat its game with you like the biggest game of their season—because many times, it will be the biggest game of their season.
Certainly, Southampton showed no deference to the newly crowned champs. Down 1-0 early in the second half, the Saints brought on Rickie Lambert—a one-dimensional goal scorer—in the 55th minute.
The message was clear: Southampton did not earn a berth in the Prem and then travel to Manchester just to somehow find a way not to lose. They came to win.
Less than five minutes later, Lambert blasted home Southampton's equalizer amidst a thicket of confused City defenders. Nine minutes after that, Steven Davis put the Saints ahead.
And yes, City got late goals from Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri to win 3-2. So all was again well in the blue half of Manchester.
Sunday's draw with Liverpool, sadly, underlines the suspicion that City still do not know how to wear the crown.
It took a junior varsity-level error by Martin Skrtel to save the defending champions from defeat at Anfield.
Actually, strike that—it took a junior varsity-level error, plus repeated failures to convert makeable chances from Luis Suárez, plus a dead-to-rights miss on a short header from Fabio Borini and a few other good bounces to keep City from not just losing the match, but getting their diamond-inlaid doors blown off.
Another old chestnut comes to mind about City's early season performance. It is the perfect rejoinder to the "it's only two games out of 38" crowd.
You cannot win the title in the first few weeks, but you could lose it.
Understandably, City have spent untold psychic energy chasing—and finally catching—Manchester United.
Well, that is terrific and all, but Chelsea are out to a 3-0-0 start and presently lead City by five points.
The Sky Blues must regain the complete confidence that allowed them to post scorchings like the one over United at Old Trafford last season, not to mention the two lashings of Norwich City (5-1, 6-1.) Those are the sort of wins that galvanize squads that have serious title hopes.
As of right now, City are a dull team walking a razor's edge, with defeat and failure all too near.
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