You just read that headline and said "City is tied for third in the Premier League and still in the discussion in the Champions League. Is this guy serious?"
Yes, quite serious.
City's Premier League record (18 points from a possible 24 from five wins and three draws) and its position on the table (behind second-place Manchester United on goal difference) combine to mask significant issues for Roberto Mancini's side. Consider:
—City has kept one clean sheet in eight league fixtures despite facing non-juggernauts such as Southampton, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City out of the gates (and Liverpool is not exactly covering itself in glory these days, either).
—City has trailed in the second half three times in eight league fixtures (home to Southampton, at Liverpool, at West Bromwich Albion).
—Without repeated late-game heroics from Edin Dzeko against Southampton, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, City would almost certainly be a mid-table club just short of the quarter pole.
For a side with so much expensive talent, it cannot be said that any phase of City's game is airtight.
City has four world-class, high-end strikers—if you still consider Mario Balotelli world class or high-end. It is a difficult argument to make given his current play; he is scoreless in seven Premier League games played (four of them starts).
Sergio Aguero missed time with an injury and looks to be back in fine form. Carlos Tevez has been very active and productive (three goals, three assists) and noticeably quiet. His late poach at Anfield saved City a crucial point, and his industry has occupied defenses, allowing the offense to flow through and occasionally around him. And Dzeko has been a phenomenon, with five goals despite only two starts.
Dzeko can see what is going on, by the way. It is only natural that he wants more chances to start and more time on the pitch, period. But then who sits? Tevez? Aguero? This situation warrants a watch.
Midfield was supposed to be a huge asset for City, with Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and David Silva overwhelming opponents with strength, speed and skill (in that order.) Regrettably, the lead midfield story for City thus far is the poor play from transfer window prize Jack Rodwell.
Rodwell came to the Etihad with a reputation as a sound positional defensive midfielder with strong tackling skills and a bit of toughness as well. So,having spent the reported 15 million pounds on him, City's brass must be wondering what exactly they bought. Rodwell authored an awful turnover in the season opener against Southampton, which was converted for a goal, then (harshly) was penalized for handball at Anfield that led directly to a free kick goal for Luis Suarez.
Nasri has been quiet. No one knows what is wrong with Silva, who has managed only one assist in seven games. Yaya is still Yaya; as the early season is proving, he cannot do it alone. And pretty soon, City will have to do without him. Javi Garcia was supposed to provide support, but he, too, has missed time with injury.
City boasts a strong back line. Vincent Kompany is still in the discussion as to the league's best center backs. Joleon Lescott, Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy would start for most other clubs in the Premiership. Featuring Micah Richards more after his return from injury will definitely help.
But if the back line is so strong, why all the conceded goals? When Kompany misplays a ball in the 23rd minute that forces a teammate to commit a professional foul (as happened at West Brom on Saturday), it undermines his side and stains the defense's overall effort for the remainder of the contest.
Joe Hart remains a top-flight keeper. But for his acrobatics in several fixtures this season, again, City would be somewhere in among Swansea City, Fulham and West Ham in the thick part of the table. Then, again, conceding against seven of eight opponents is just not acceptable, and it cannot be said that every shot that got past him was unstoppable.
There is little point in fixating on City's Champions League play thus far, since two games is an insignificant sample size. But if you want to nitpick, City has one point in two games played, and they were exceptionally fortunate to take that one point.
All told, City's form thus far is that of a team that seems either bored or beaten down by the grueling nature of their schedule. In other words, they look like they might be expected to look in January or February, when the season seems like it will never end.
Which is a nice way of saying that there is no good reason to look like this now, i.e., a bounce or three from already being out of touch with the league leaders.
It is getting late early at the Etihad.
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