Robin Sainty: Not the reaction City boss hoped for...
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When a manager comes out with a tirade about overly critical fans, the last thing he needs is his players going out and shooting themselves repeatedly in the foot before folding like a cheap suit.
On Saturday, as Daniel Farke acknowledged, the fans turned up, but the passion in the stands wasn’t matched on the pitch against a Watford side that were all the things that City currently aren’t. The visitors were simply too clinical, streetwise and resilient for the Canaries.
The goals City conceded were awful. For the first, three defenders were in a position to close down the crosser but didn’t, while Ozan Kabak was static under the ball and consequently found himself beaten by a smaller player.
For the second, Mathias Normann failed to track Josh King’s run and Grant Hanley didn’t get tight enough to Ismaila Sarr, while the third was simply shambolic, with two of City’s three left-sided players on the other side of the pitch when the move started and capped by Kenny McLean’s horrendously sliced attempt at a clearance.
When Watford had opportunities they made them count whereas City got into good areas several times only for the final ball to be found wanting, but what is really concerning is that the sloppy defending and poor decision-making in and around the opposition box are being repeated game after game.
I have some sympathy with a defensive unit which has been subject to constant changes, because only by playing together can defenders build the level of understanding that is needed, but considerably less with a system which has left City’s full-backs so exposed.
Saturday’s 4-3-3 showed promise in an attacking sense, with Teemu Pukki and Josh Sargent showing signs of developing a decent partnership, but once again Brandon Williams and Max Aarons found themselves under pressure on a regular basis as Watford continually exploited City’s lack of width.
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However, if the problem was simply the formation, then we could have expected a significant improvement on Tuesday night, with City lining up as a 3-5-2, yet once again poor defending, compounded by Christos Tzolis’s woeful penalty, outweighed any positives.
Realistically, a manager can play any system he likes, but if players are going to be guilty of the sort of individual errors that we are seeing game after game it's unlikely to generate too many positive results.
Inevitably, given the situation that City find themselves in fingers are being pointed, be it at individual players, Farke or the coaching staff and that’s largely because of the big difference in expectation between this season and City’s last in the Premier League.
In 2019/20, I think that most of us accepted it would be an uphill battle with a barely-strengthened Championship squad. This time, however, City have spent significant amounts on international players with good reputations and fans have a right to expect more from them than they have delivered so far.
Where the fault lies is difficult for those of us on the outside to pinpoint, although it’s hard to blame either the manager or the coaches for the sort of individual mistakes that we’ve seen, but the fact is that this squad should have been capable of producing more than one goal from open play and no points after five games.
Last season’s Championship title was won with flair, but to survive in the Premier League flair isn’t enough. City need to add considerably more steel than has been evident so far, both physically and mentally, and that must start with a belief that every game is winnable.
They must toughen up, and quickly. Too often, players are being brushed off the ball and 50/50 challenges are routinely lost. City may be relative Premier League minnows, but as Mark Twain said; “It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog”.