Robin Sainty: City's delicate balancing act
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Sometimes the result of a football match fails to reflect what actually went on during the 90 minutes - City’s trip to the Etihad last Saturday was not one of those occasions.
While it’s easy to point to the huge gulf in resources between the two clubs - and let’s be clear, losing to Manchester City is neither unexpected nor a reason for criticism in itself - the manner of the defeat generated plenty of justifiable concern from fans.
For much of the game the Canaries looked like lambs to the slaughter, and the fact that it took until the closing minutes for them to generate their single shot reflected a game in which they never established any sort of foothold, a situation that wasn’t helped by sloppy passing and a formation that offered attacking options which were barely utilised because the lack of ball winners in midfield meant that City’s possession was minimal.
Although, as against Liverpool, City could claim unfortunate ricochets for a couple of the goals, a failure to deal decisively with loose balls cost them heavily, while the final two, with attackers running in behind ball-watching defenders were even more worrying.
In fairness to City’s full-backs, they got very little cover, and the loss of the defensive side of Emi Buendia’s game was very evident, but the fact that Manchester City were able to repeatedly use balls inside the full-backs to get players to the byline was frustrating to watch and was reflected in Daniel Farke’s post-match comment that the hosts had scored “four times more or less the same goal”.
It was a sobering afternoon, and consequently Tuesday’s game took on greater significance, both in terms of the need to generate some positivity going into this weekend's match and also the opportunity for players who had not been involved to any great extent so far this season to put down a marker.
There was also, of course, the small matter of revenge for the 3-1 defeat against Bournemouth at Carrow Road last season, which was largely thanks to Ben Pearson’s Oscar-worthy performance to get Dimitris Giannoulis sent off.
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Predictably, Pearson spent the Carabao Cup match being roundly booed, but that would have hurt much less than seeing his side dismantled by a rampant Canaries team.
It was just what the doctor ordered and will lift both the dressing room and the fans, although it has to be said that Bournemouth were very poor, particularly in the second half.
However, that did nothing to reduce the hype surrounding Christos Tzolis, whose debut could hardly have gone better, with two goals and two assists, and along with Josh Sargent, Brandon Williams and, particularly, Kenny McLean who produced an outstanding all-round performance, he will have given Farke considerable food for thought as his mind turned to today's starting line-up.
That said, comparing performances against a Championship club’s second string with those against a side that will be one of the favourites for this season’s Champions League is particularly difficult and I would be surprised if Farke makes too many changes this afternoon.
Nevertheless, Tuesday’s game demonstrated that there is genuine depth in the squad this season and that has to be a healthy situation going forward, not least because it will allow Farke to protect some of his younger players from the pressure of excessive expectation. For example, Tzolis is clearly a major talent, but he will need sympathetic handling, just like Buendia did when he first arrived.
City’s head coach will also want to avoid demoralising players who struggled at the Etihad. A perfect example of this is Giannoulis, who was terrorised by Gabriel Jesus and substituted at half-time, yet a week earlier had been lauded by many as City’s best player against Liverpool.
It’s a difficult balance to strike, but that’s why Farke is managing from the dugout and we’re doing it from our armchairs.