Cardiff City vs. Manchester City: 6 Things We Learned
So, Manuel Pellegrini, how are you enjoying life as a manager in the Premier League?
Pellegrini learned in his Sky Blues' 3-2 loss at Cardiff City what his charges already knew: Every time you think you know the answer, the Premier League changes the question.
Various media observers, like Oliver Holt of the Mirror, labeled City's defeat to a recently promoted Cardiff City side as a shocking upset—but there were warning signs to be heeded if you looked.
City played the match without their two starting centre-backs, crossing their fingers and closing their eyes with Javi Garcia faking it there to predictable effect.
And there was that little matter of this being Cardiff City's first home match in the top flight in 51 years. Anyone who thought Cardiff City would not raise their level under those circumstances knows nothing about sports as a whole.
Are City as good as 4-0 over Newcastle at the Etihad? Are City as mundane as a 3-2 loss at Cardiff City? The truth almost certainly lies somewhere between those poles.
Still, there are plenty of truths to tell from City's latest unexpected Premier League pratfall.
City's Defense of Set Pieces Still Stinks Like Hot Garbage
When a side hires a new manager, there is this strange mental process that takes place in the side's fans where they think all the problems the players had recently will somehow just disappear overnight.
For City fans, that blind spot was City's defense of set pieces, which last year was the acne scar on the pretty prom picture of City's record as the stingiest defense in the Premier League.
City were quite nearly impregnable in open play last season, but strange things happened to the Citizens any time the opposition got to put the ball down in a corner or in a dangerous position for a free kick.
Suddenly, City's pricey mercenaries—seasoned professionals all—became as nervous and unsure as, well, fourth-form boys at a prom.
You know what they say about what happens the more things change.
Cardiff City scored twice from corner kicks. Both times, Pellegrini's defenders stood around ball-watching and allowing Cardiff City attackers free runs at Joe Hart's cage.
Was Javi Garcia fouled during one of those goals? Maybe. But Garcia is big enough to stand his ground and experienced enough to know that he is never getting that call on the road in the Premier League.
City can hire as many new managers and sign as many new players as they like. If they cannot defend set pieces in the Premier League, they have no business considering themselves to be title contenders.
Defense Wins Championships
Manuel Pellegrini said to anyone who would listen in the preseason that he needed a side with two players for every position.
Presumably, he meant that given City's responsibility to contend in the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup, a long and grueling season would require plenty of squad rotation.
Pellegrini's words have come true much faster than he would have preferred.
Matija Nastasic and Vincent Kompany, City's two preferred starters at centre-back, were both out against Cardiff City, and their joint absence was glaring.
Per ESPNFC.com, the replacement centre-backs (Joleon Lescott and Javi Garcia) vacillated between passable and unacceptable all day.
City probably hoped that, with the schedule serving up seeming lollipops against Newcastle and two newly promoted sides in their first three league matches, they could bluff their way to three wins until Nastasic and Kompany healed up.
So much for that clever gambit.
The big question now is who will start at centre-back for the Citizens against Hull City in six days.
City's Proclivity to Play Down to the Level of the Opposition
Put City's storied history of ineptitude aside. Even considering only the recent days of great successes, City are still inexcusably prone to carelessly frittering points away on the road against lesser sides.
Last season included these beauties:
- Stoke City 1-1 Manchester City
- Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City
- Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Manchester City
- Southampton 3-1 Manchester City
But if City keep tossing away one-goal leads on the road to the likes of Cardiff City, the quote-unquote big games against the big teams will become less important as those teams will already have pulled away in the league table.
Let's call it like it is: You do not see the sides with the class of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester United needlessly giving away points to sides resembling Sunderland and Cardiff City.
If Manchester City really aspire to that highest level, this particular weakness has to be eradicated, like, right now.
The Hall of Fame Busts of Fernandinho and Jesus Navas Can Be Put on Hold
Those two really flew all over the pitch against Newcastle, didn't they? Especially when the Magpies went down a man. The new midfielders were all anyone wanted to talk about then.
Smash cut to Cardiff City, where Navas was removed after 55 minutes and Fernandinho sprayed the ball around the pitch with indiscriminate unease.
Right, so neither Fernandinho nor Navas was to blame for City's dearth of centre-back options. They did not play significant roles in any of Cardiff City's three tallies.
Here's the thing, though: City knew going into the contest that, with a gaping hole at the back, their key to victory would be scoring early and often against a side that should not have been able to match City's attacking talent.
Instead, it took City 52 minutes to score, and even their 1-0 lead was not in line with how the match had gone to that point.
Fernandinho and Navas project to have happier days in sky blue shirts.
For City's sake, they'd better.
Edin Dzeko Has No Intention of Leaving the Starting XI
One goal in two matches for Edin Dzeko is not the sort of statistic that, absent context, suggests that he has locked down his starting spot.
If you have watched the first two City matches, though, you know better.
Dzeko was positively scintillating in City's opener against Newcastle. That he did not score in that match was down to bad luck more than anything. It did not matter anyway, as his teammates were scoring almost at will with him in the center of it all.
Against Cardiff City, Dzeko broke the dam and gave the Sky Blues a 1-0 lead with 40 minutes to play that, for most teams with championship aspirations, would be more than sufficient.
As long as Dzeko keeps playing like this, he will start for City ahead of Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic. Unless, that is, Manuel Pellegrini decides to deploy him somewhere else on the pitch.
Can Dzeko play centre-back?
He can't be much worse than Javi Garcia, can he?
Like All Managers, Manuel Pellegrini Is Only as Good as His Last Result
Manuel Pellegrini promised Manchester City fans "attractive" football.
"We will see an attractive team playing in the opponents' half, we will try to be an attacking team. All the teams I worked at before did that and that is why I am here now," said Pellegrini at his first press conference as City's manager, according to goal.com.
Maybe Sky Blues' fans will find this new style of football, where City never seriously threatens to protect either a one-goal lead or later a hard-earned road point, attractive.
On second thought, probably not.
In retrospect, City fans would have been plenty happy with seeing Pellegrini's charges skulk out of Cardiff with three boring points or even one dodgy point.
Instead, City fans got, er, entertained with slapstick set-piece defense, iffy keeping and offensive work that was too often indifferent.
And no points.
It never takes long for the daggers to come out after a result like this, per Oliver Holt of the Mirror.
David Platt, City's erstwhile assistant manager to Roberto Mancini who really ought to shut it, had this gem handy after Pellegrini's first Premier League defeat: “If Mancini and I were still at City, Hart wouldn’t be there. We decided to sign Begovic.”
Which of course explains why, with his job on the line, Mancini started Hart over Costel Pantilimon in the doomed FA Cup final against Wigan in May.
Bitter words from bitter exes are always at the ready when a new love hits a snag.
Pellegrini and City can safely ignore such idle talk.