Manchester City vs. Wigan Athletic: 6 Things We Learned
Wade through my archive and peruse the comments and you will find repetitive, rampant allegations of my negativity about Manchester City.
My response is generally some permutation of "the truth hurts."
Not this time.
There is no need for breathless rhetoric following this match. Some are sure to call it an embarrassment or a disgrace. Not me.
At day's end, City lost a chance to win a trophy they would very much have liked to win but did not much need to win. Their XI, their effort and the outcome proved that conclusively.
Here are six takeaways from Manchester City 1-2 Wigan Athletic.
Manchester City Do Not Value the FA Cup the Way Their Fans Do
There are legitimate, sound reasons why Manchester City manager Pellegrini fielded an XI for an FA Cup quarter-final without his best centre-back, his best midfield playmaker, his best defensive midfielder and his starting keeper.
Costel Pantilimon starts the cup matches to give Joe Hart needed rest. There is no quarrel there.
Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Fernandinho spent half the week before the Wigan match on and off airplanes and playing in international friendlies for their home countries.
For that matter, so did Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, Jesus Navas—but those three started anyway, as Pellegrini tried to field just enough of his best players to squeeze a win out at home.
Manchester City still must try to close a nine-point gap in the Premier League standings behind a Chelsea side that wins every time it plays anymore. And City are off to Barcelona this week to attempt to rescue their on-life-support Champions League bid.
So, as much as City fans would have liked to have seen the A team dispatch Wigan, they were never going to get that.
City tried to beat a fully committed Wigan side with less than their very best, by design, and could not do it. That they tried to do that in the first place is merely an illustration of City's priorities, nothing more.
The Struggles of Martin Demichelis Are the Worst-Kept Secret in Football
After Martin Demichelis brought down Lionel Messi from behind, putting Manchester City down a goal and a man in the first leg of their Champions League tie with Barcelona, there was a reaction and then a backlash from City pundits.
The reaction was that Demichelis, the weakest link of the back line all season, predictably got exposed at the worst time and in the worst possible manner by superior opposition he could not hope to defend fairly.
Then, in a media climate where everyone needs a unique, controversial take, the backlash from the City writers was that maybe Demichelis was just a scapegoat or whipping boy for all of City's other ills, and that he really isn't that bad.
There was David Mooney of ESPNFC.com, writing that Demichelis is "undeserving of such strong criticism."
There was Rob Pollard of Bleacher Report (sorry, mate), "offering a case for the defence" of Demichelis.
Same with View from a Blue's Steven Allweis.
You guys are all done with that, now, right? Because Wigan went right at Demichelis to get the penalty that ultimately became the deciding goal between the sides.
Much the way Barcelona ran at Demichelis until he scythed down Messi.
Manuel Pellegrini Learns That Overreliance on the Dressing Room Talk Is Perilous
Manchester City limped dejectedly and despondently to their Wembley Stadium dressing room at half-time of the Capital One Cup final against Sunderland.
The Sky Blues were down 1-0 to an inferior side, and nothing was working.
Whatever Pellegrini said that day was the right thing, because City controlled the remainder of that match and ultimately claimed that cup with a three-goal second half.
Here's the thing, though: You only want to have to make that sort of speech once in a, well, blue moon.
Because City limped dejectedly and despondently to their Etihad Stadium dressing room at half-time of the FA Cup quarter-final against Wigan Athletic.
Again, the Sky Blues were down 1-0 to an inferior side. Again, nothing was working.
Only this time, instead of grabbing the match with force and purpose and never letting it go, City conceded a back-breaking second goal in the second minute of the second half—almost certainly before many of the fans had returned to their seats.
High-flying, prolific City have now played four straight matches without scoring in the first half.
Maybe the half-time talk needs to be moved up in the manager's match schedule.
Samir Nasri Wanted to Win This Match More Than the Rest of His Side Combined
It is hilarious now to look back at last year's press clippings describing Samir Nasri as an overrated player and a transfer bust.
Manchester City's XI against Wigan Athletic played with some combination of weary resignation and feigned interest except for Nasri, who tried to will his team through by his own fiery efforts.
Nasri scored City's only goal and came close on more than one occasion to creating another.
Right, so he kicked the ball away petulantly and received a yellow card for his trouble. Admittedly, that is not smart.
But football players do cynical, selfish things all the time. The key is whether there is any shred of concern for the team's prospects from the player who lashes out.
In Nasri's case, he kicked the ball away and he slammed the pitch with his hands in frustration not because he wasn't going to get his numbers or win Man of the Match.
He acted out because he could see what tens of thousands of City fans could simultaneously see—that his team-mates were not delivering professional performances.
If you don't believe me, review David McDonnell's player ratings from the Mirror.
Nasri could not do it alone, but at least he really tried.
Alvaro Negredo Has Never Been the Same Since Falling Down at West Ham
Two needless, stupid personnel decisions have marred Manchester City's season.
The first was playing Matija Nastasic in the Barclays Asia Trophy final in August. Nastasic had jelled beautifully with Vincent Kompany in the second half of the 2012-13 season and looked set to see his career take off this season.
Nastasic has not been the same since that injury; now his form is in the tank and you need six search dogs and a military profiler to find him on a City team sheet.
The second was playing Alvaro Negredo in the second leg of the Capital One Cup tie when City led West Ham United 6-0 after the first leg.
Negredo took a spill at the end of that match that caused him to miss City's next match against Tottenham Hotspur.
Since then, Negredo has made eight appearances for City in all competitions and scored zero times.
Not even reuniting Negredo with Aguero has lit the wick again for the Spaniard.
Playing Negredo in that farcical second leg of the West Ham Capital One Cup tie is easily the dumbest thing Pellegrini has done since taking over the reins at City.
The FA Cup Matters Until It Doesn't
As Michael Davies of the Men in Blazers podcast is fond of saying, the FA Cup is a very important prize right up to the point where your club gets knocked out of the tournament.
Then it's a silly trophy that carries no meaning in comparison to real silverware like the stuff they hand out to sides that win the Premier League and the Champions League.
Manchester City are sure to give all the right lip service in the coming day or two about how devastated they are in falling to Wigan (again) and losing their chance to win their second trophy this season.
Let's all get serious for a moment, though, shall we?
City already won the Capital One Cup. Not as serious a prize as the FA Cup, of course, but like the FA Cup one of the trophies that it is nice but not all that significant to win. Ask Swansea City for details.
It would have been fun to win the FA Cup for City, but it would have done nothing to burnish their credentials as a Premier League power or a Champions League threat.
And they might have lost to Arsenal in the semi-final anyway.
This FA Cup run was very important to City. Right up until it ended.